Sometimes life steals that which we love the most, casting a tainted pall over all that follows.
There are those who numb the emptiness; others who desperately search for that eternal flame, hoping to ease their fears; and then there are those who construct barbed wire walls around their hearts that few, if any, can penetrate.
In the newly released film, “Getting Grace,” a collection of broken souls are joined by 16-year-old Grace, a quirky teen with an advanced cancer.
The film is co-written, directed and produced by Daniel Roebuck, who also stars in the film. Roebuck has acted in more than 200 roles for TV and film, including “Matlock” and “The Fugitive.”
But this isn't a typical dying child story. This is fresh tale, originally penned by Jeff Lewis and re-written by Roebuck. It is a story that must be told. A story that might just save some hearts along the way.
“It’s the dying that’s easy,” Grace tells her friend. “You don’t choose to die. But living right takes fighting and commitment and honor and all those things that are so damn hard for so many humans.”
Roebuck, who stars in the film as funeral director Bill Jankowski, arrives in Glens Falls on Thursday for the Adirondack Film Festival and will be on tap at both screenings of “Getting Grace” to interact with audiences. Additionally, Roebuck is one of five screenwriters who will share their career experiences with film festival VIP attendees on Saturday afternoon.
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As the film progresses, Grace has a way of filling in the dead spaces of your heart. She upends all the rituals, rules and traditions surrounding death and dying. And she explores new ideas, like trying on a casket for size.
“Does this one make me look fat?” Grace, played by Madelyn Dundon, asks Bill Jankowsi while trying them out.
As she keeps popping up at his Bethlehem, Pennsylvania funeral home, Grace’s offbeat and enduring charm begins to soften a man who closed off his heart decades earlier.
Like in life, the more time we spend with Grace and Bill, the more we like them. And as their bond grows, there is that belly pit gnawing about what happens next.
When he asks, “What will I do without you?” we are hooked, drawn into the intimacy of a relationship some can only wish they had experienced with their father or an older man in their life.
Grace visits a minister, asking if he has ever seen a miracle, and he tells her “This is not how it’s done, Grace.”
She asks a new age guru to teach her to believe.
And in her quest to believe, to be able to bend spoons with her mind, she brings along a rogue group of children from the hospital who follow her on her spoon bending mission. Together, as silverware everywhere disappears, their hope that their own energies can somehow move metal is their anchor.
Perhaps the most gripping part of the film is when young Audrey, Grace’s new friend from the hospital, comes with her to try out coffins. She eventually draws plans, showing him exactly what she wants, and she makes Bill promise he will design one with a light. It can't go out when the lid closes, she tells him.
This film is funny in a comfortable way. It is charming. And most of all, it has a metaphorically profound sense of Grace.
“It’s a beautiful film,” said filmmaker and producer John Gaps III. “My wife and I previewed it and I cried three times at the end.”
Roebuck lives in Los Angeles, but returned home to Bethlehem to shoot the film. And he jokes about his father unexpectedly walking into almost every scene.
He and Dundon graduated from the same high school, Bethlehem Catholic High School.
"I read a lot of kids for the film," he said. "But there was only one Grace."
Roebuck said Dundon reminds him of his own daughter, Grace, and he based much of his writing on things his own daughter would do.
In September, at the Northeast Film Festival in Teaneck, New Jersey, “Getting Grace” won four awards: The Audience Choice Award, Best Feature Film, Best Directing in a Feature Film and Best Actress in a Feature Film; and was nominated in five other categories.
What Roebuck did not expect from “Getting Grace” is that people who have gone through the grief of losing a child to cancer love the film.
“The movie is touching people who are sick and giving people hope,” he said. “It gives a new perspective.”
“Getting Grace” is a bittersweet triumph of hope and profound love. It is a film that doesn’t leave easily, and the next day or the day after that, there are moments of wonder and yearning and remembering loves lost, and those still remaining in our own lives. And thanks to Grace, we might be able to face the rough patches that seem to come when least expected.
“I think some people get Grace and others never will,” said Grace’s mother in the film.
“Getting Grace” screens at the Adirondack Film Festival on both Friday and Saturday at the 190 Grille & Cinema on Glen Street.
Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli is a features writer at The Post-Star. She can be reached at email@example.com for comments or story ideas.
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