Sometimes you wonder how a movie with a couple of “names” in it got past you. And everybody else.
“A Girl Like Grace” is a 2015 teen drama starring Ryan Destiny, who went on to do Fox’s “Star” TV series, with Raven-Symone and Meagan Good in top line supporting roles.
It’s about bullying and its consequences. So you’d think it’d conjure up a little buzz.
What held it back? The producers claim a PG-13 rating, even though there’s a gang rape scene in it, sexual content and drug abuse. Did the MPAA ever even look at it?
Maybe the notion of screen veteran Meagan Good, playing a former Vegas dancer whose sister killed herself, coming home and buddying up to her late sibling’s high school BFF-with-benefits, Grace, was the hard sell. Good was 34 when she made this, and the idea of a drug-loving, loose-living stripper palling around with a girl half her age feels…off.
Ah, but that’s nothing to seeing Raven-Symone, a high-mileage 30 year-old (then) playing the meanest mean girl of all at the unnamed (Gulfport, Miss.) high school where all this takes place. Jayzus.
“Grace” is a grim, brooding gay girl’s coming-of-age drama about a would-be writer,a seemingly college-bound teen who withdraws into her shell after her bullied friend Andrea (Paige Hurd) kills herself.
“Lazy” is what we label screenplays the lean on that most exhausted of screen shortcuts, voice-over narration. “Never ‘tell’ it if you can ‘show’ it,” they teach you in screenwriting classes. Amazing how few screenwriters even bother take a stab at dropping this tiresome crutch. Do we need to hear anything, in VO, after Grace (Destiny) tells us she was named that “to remind me of who I am?”
No. We do not.
Grace sulks through her life with a vain, short-tempered Haitian-American single mom (Garcelle Beauvais), a bombshell who plows through an Army regiment of lovers, looking for a man who will take care of her…uh them.
Grace is a high school senior, keeping her sadness to herself. Even the mean girls keep their distance. They don’t want Mean Queen Mary) Symone to break a hip, do they?
Sorry, last “She’s too old to be in this” crack.
Grace’s special pain is glimpsed in flashbacks, but explained to a new boy in school by one of the jocks.
“She won’t be cheering for OUR team,” he says, impressed at how subtle he’s being. The oher fellow wonders “Huh?”
Because “she’s on the OTHER team.” As in gay. As in she lost more than just a friend last summer.
The oddest invention in this is the arrival of Lisa (Good), home to “take care of my grandmother” but hellbent on making Grace her new “best friend.” Grace is abruptly yanked from her home and homework solitude and hurled into Lisa’s drama — sketchy boyfriend, drugs, “partying” with people far beyond “school night” curfews.
I don’t buy that dynamic at all, and that’s mainly due to Destiny’s performance. She plays one note for most of the movie, and so monotonously that when she cuts loose with Lisa and boys and drinking and whatnot, it seems wholly out of character.
Her sexuality climbs back up on the fence during this dive into hedonism. She’s a teen. They experiment. Fine.
It’s the ugliness that comes out of left field, the ugliness remembered from Andrea’s last days, the ugliness that screams “No WAY this was PG-13” that takes over the movie.
“A Girl Like Grace” plays like a picture built on compromises, edited into an endless parade of undeveloped loose ends. Grace’s “future,” hinted at by her Honors English class teacher? Her mother’s sudden bout of motherly concern? Grace’s writing?
She laments the “tears I cry inside, the misery of my own reproducing pain,” in voice-over. And maybe we grimace.
Not as much as when we see Raven-Symone lead a vampy cheer squad through a routine that looks more “Showgirls” than “Bring it On.”
Director and co-writer Ty Hodges, who plays a just-graduated friend, has a run of completed films that peaked in 2015. He hasn’t made a feature since.
MPAA Rating: PG-13? With drug abuse, teen drinking, sex and a gang rape scene? Sure.
Cast: Ryan Destiny, Garcelle Beauvais, Raven-Symone, Ty Hodges and Meagan Good.
Credits: Directed by Ty Hodges, script by Jacquin Deleon and Ty Hodges. A GVN release on Netflix.
Running time: 1:33