Cinequest: FOR GRACE

Andrew Keatley and Jacob Casselden in FOR GRACE

Andrew Keatley and Jacob Casselden in FOR GRACE

In the winning British dramedy For Grace, Ben (Andrew Keatley) is a young can-do guy who has started his own successful company. He’s adopted, so when he becomes a dad, it triggers a need for him to track down his biological family. He even hires a documentarian to film his quest. Of course, Ben’s journey doesn’t go as he might expect. Along the way, For Grace explores the kinds of connections to other humans that we need. And what, at its core, is “family”?

Ben is more than a little self-absorbed. After all, who makes a movie about a such personal moment,  assuming that his experience will merit being documented and that others will want to watch it?   Ben also has an odd way of dealing with difficult feelings; he completely withdraws until he has processed his feelings himself.  Until he emerges from self-isolation, he really can’t hear what others have to say.

The hard-charging Ben encounters the laid-back Peter (Jacob Casselden), who seems nothing like Ben. Ben has had every advantage, but he is ever restless; Peter has a disability and grew up as an institutionalized orphan, but he seems sublimely free of resentment.  Both men feel something missing in their lives, but only Ben aspires to fill that void. Peter is sweet and simple, and Peter has protected himself with low expectations.

I hesitate to call For Grace a “mockumentary” because it’s not a straight Best in Show-like comedy. But the pseudo-documentary format is very effective – for the first 15-20 minutes, I kept asking myself whether this was a real documentary that had been mislabeled as a narrative feature.

For Grace maintains a very clear-eyed perspective on human nature, which results in some acidly funny observations of human behavior.  Watch, for example Ben’s reaction when his adoptive parents learn that he is hunting for his biological parents – it doesn’t go AT ALL as he had expected.

For Grace is a an especially promising first feature for director Sebastian Armesto. Keatley wrote the story, and the dialogue was improvised by the cast.   For Grace works because it is essentially character-driven, and Keatley’s and Casselden’s performances are very strong.

And there’s a Big Plot Twist.

For Grace is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Have a hankie ready for the ending. I’ve seen over twenty films from this year’s Cinequest, and I will be shocked if For Grace fails to win an audience award.

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