How do we judge what is and isn’t real, when it comes to family? Are family those people we happen to be blood-related to, or is it the people collected throughout life that bring us the most joy and support? For people who have been adopted or grown up in foster care, this question is even trickier to answer, and some of the answers harder to come to terms with.
Beginning with a choice quote from Pinocchio – one of the most famous stories about what constitutes a ‘real’ family – Sebastian Armesto’s For Grace, written by and starring Andrew Keatley, endeavors to explore these ideas of family, biological or created from love that has grown from time and affection. It is, in its own unassuming way, one of the most heartfelt films I’ve seen for a long time.
The set-up is that Ben (Keatley), who was adopted as a newborn, has gained a new perspective on family since the birth of his daughter (the titular Grace) and wishes to find out more about his origins. This takes him down a few different paths and on an emotional rollercoaster that makes him reevaluate both his stance on life and what those people already in his life truly mean to him. Oh, and the whole thing’s a mockumentary.
Telling you any more would spoil what a treat this film is, and the emotional wallop of some of the subsequent twists and turns.
We’re told by third parties including wife Sophie (Sophie Roberts) and adoptive parents Harriett (Carolyn Pertwee) and David (David Acton) that Ben is a pragmatic, self-sufficient and rather uptight person. He has his own successful risk-assessment business. He’s the last person in the world who can cope with his life turning inside out, making the fact that he does pursue the truth about his childhood all the more engaging.
In that sense, the mockumentary style works perfectly on a number of levels. Ben needs a sounding board and someone to probe him for an emotional response when things get heavy (Sebastian Armesto, doubling as the in-film director). Without that aspect, Ben would have been a less believable figure with which to ground the film and it would have been a far less satisfying journey overall.
And as Ben’s outlook evolves across the swift 86-minute running time of the film, the style loosens a little and, by the end, we’re more or less watching the story as presented traditionally. Two thirds of the way through, unfiltered reality starts to break into the film within the film. Whether this slight shift bothers you or not depends on how well the film has carried you through thus far.
While not spoiling his role in the film, Jacob Casselden’s performance as Peter brings the film to a new level and provides many of For Grace‘s most memorable moments. While Keatley at times holds on to the idea that this is a The Office-style dark comedy when it’s not entirely appropriate, there’s a real, unrelenting pathos to what Casselden is doing that I don’t think the film could do without.
In addition to its exploration of family, there are parts of the movie that touch upon how the smallest change in circumstance can alter an entire life, and what makes us lucky in comparison to another person. It’s about profound disappointments and relief, the helplessness of not understanding where we came from, and what happens to life’s unwanted things.
It’s not perfect, there are moments that teeter right on the edge between heartfelt and saccharine but, for a group of filmmakers for which For Grace is their first feature-length credit, it’s a hugely impressive outing. The best films, not just the enjoyable ones but the ones that you’ll remember, make you feel grateful you’ve seen them. This is such a film, and one I hope means great things to come from all those involved.
For Grace is screening again at Raindance on 26th September at 7:30pm
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