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When Stanley Phillips (John Cusack) learns his wife Grace has been killed while serving in the war in Iraq, he does not know how to tell their two daughters, 10 year old Heidi (Shélan O'Keefe) and 6 year old Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk). He takes the girls on an impromptu road trip to an amusement park in Florida, hoping to find courage and wisdom. There are a few stops along the way, including a stop-over at his mother's house, where he has an altercation with his liberal brother John (Alessandro Nivola). But he is unable to share his thoughts with anyone, except the familiar voice on his home ansaphone, whose message is spoken by his beloved wife.

Review by Louise Keller:
Sometimes you've got to trust that you're doing the right thing, says John Cusack's single father, Stanley Phillips. He is talking to his daughters, but it is as though he is talking to himself. This heartfelt film is a bitter-sweet snapshot of a man and the special relationship he cements with his daughters as he takes them on a spur-of-the-moment road-trip. When he cannot find the words to tell the girls the shattering news of their mother's death, Stanley lets his instincts guide him. First time director James C. Strouse, who also wrote the astute and insightful screenplay, grapples with the heavy subject matter with lightness and delicacy.

Each member of the Phillips family copes with Grace's absence in Iraq in a different way. Stanley makes a token appearance at a women's support group but is unable to share anything personal; 6 year old Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk) has her watch alarm set to a nominated time when she and her mother think about each other; 10 year old Heidi (Shélan O'Keefe) walks at night, when she cannot sleep. These coping mechanisms are all solitary; when it comes to sharing their thoughts, none of the family is practised. Stanley can only talk naturally when he rings the ansaphone at home, and hears Grace's familiar voice.

This is a different role for Cusack, whose Stanley is vulnerable and an awkward communicator. The two girls deliver splendid naturalistic performances: Bednarczyk's Dawn is a sweet, fun-loving child who loves to jump on the bed, while O'Keefe's Heidi is a serious, insightful child who automatically assumes responsibilities. There's a confrontation with Stanley's outspoken brother John (Alessandro Nivola), Heidi's first cigarette, a shopping spree, ear piercing and a rollercoaster ride in the manicured garden beauty of Florida's Enchanted Gardens. Of course Stanley cannot delay the inevitable indefinitely, and when the right time comes (if there can ever be a right time for delivering such a painful revelation), Strouse handles it exquisitely. Clint Eastwood's expressive jazz-influenced music score punctuates the mood with an air of expectancy rather than subdued melancholy. This is a beautiful film that handles tough topics. It's about life and death, and dealing with both. It's understandable why the distributors were nervous about a theatrical release, but the film should find a good audience on DVD.

DVD special features include a profile of TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), a feature about the inspiration behind the film and A Conversation on Grace.

Published August 22, 2008

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(US, 2007)

CAST: John Cusack, Doug Dearth, Dana Lynne Gilhooley, Alessandro Nivola, Shelan O'Keefe, Natalie Berg

PRODUCER: John Cusack, Grace Loh, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Galt Niederhoffer, Celine Rattray

DIRECTOR: James C. Strouse

SCRIPT: James C. Strouse

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jean-Louis Bompoint

EDITOR: Joe Klotz

MUSIC: Clint Eastwood


RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Not released theatrically


SPECIAL FEATURES: Profile of TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors); An inspiration for Grace is Gone; A Conversation on Grace

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: August 21, 2008

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