Making the Grades
It's the story of Stanley Phillips (John Cusack), a sober, unassuming sales manager at a home supply store. His wife Grace has just been deployed and he is left playing the role of single parent to his 12-year-old daughter Heidi (Shelan O'Keefe) and her eight-year-old sister Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk). Already the two girls are missing their mom and Stanley is doing his best to maintain some kind of normalcy in their lives.
However, any hope of that is shattered when a military captain (Doug Dearth) and the base chaplain (Doug James) show up unannounced on the doorstep with the message no family ever wants to hear. Stunned by the sudden death of his wife, the bereaved husband spends the better part of the day sitting motionless in a chair trying to grasp his new reality. But by the time his girls come running in the door from school, he is still ill prepared to break the news to them.
Rather, he soldiers on by throwing the girls into their SUV and starting out on a spontaneous cross-country trip to the Enchanted Gardens amusement park. While Dawn is overjoyed at the thought of bailing out of school and heading south, Heidi, a serious and highly responsible preteen, begins to worry.
Endless miles pass under their tires as the threesome drive nonstop with Stanley suffocating under the weight of his secret. Torn with grief, he even calls home along the way just to hear his wife's voice on their answering machine. All the while Heidi grows increasingly uneasy with her father's erratic behavior.
Although the film contains moderately few content concerns, the use of two sexual expletives (usually not included in a PG-13 rating) and some scenes of teens smoking impact the script's suitability for younger viewers. Passing comments concerning phone sex between married couples are also made during the movie's opening moments.
It's a road trip both tender and poignant. Yet one that avoids making the viewer side exclusively with either the patriotic Stanley or his left-wing brother John (Alessandro Nivola). Instead, watching the quiet battles waging in the lives of Stanley and his daughters allows audiences to appreciate the magnitude of the sacrifice made by these sideline heroes and the real life military families they represent.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Grace Is Gone.
How do Stanley and his brother John differ in their opinions on the military? How do their lifestyles also differ? Why does John see himself as a victim? What freedoms does he nonetheless enjoy?
Although the evening news can be disturbing for many people, why does Stanley especially want to protect his children from the nightly barrage of war coverage?
While Heidi isn’t sure what the problem is, she knows something is wrong. Why is it important for parents to share relative and appropriate information with their children about family issues? What other kinds of family struggles might effect children?