A Fall from Grace
Tyler Perry Studios, 2020
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A Fall from Grace is a contemporary film about an independent, older single woman named Grace, played by Crystal Fox (The Haves and the Have Nots, Big Little Lies), who falls in love with Shannon, a young charismatic photographer played by Mehcad Brooks (The Game, Necessary Roughness). Predictably, the fairy-tale affair ends when all hell breaks loose after their inevitable nuptials. The heartbreaking story is reminiscent of the 1990 film, Pacific Heights, with Melanie Griffith as “Patty” and Matthew Modine as “Drake.” The newlyweds invest their savings in a beautiful San Francisco apartment building and then struggle to remove Carter, a vile tenant played by Michael Keaton, who has wormed his way into legal squatter’s rights.
In A Fall from Grace, despite Grace’s efforts to get Shannon out of her house and bank account, he unabashedly exploits his new legal entitlements, remaining entrenched and entangled in both. “What’s mine is ours” is twisted by Shannon into: “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine too!” As with Patty, we can feel Grace's frustration and hopelessness. But A Fall from Grace takes a huge departure from Pacific Heights as its story unfolds.
At center stage of the film is the matter of trust, which no written documents, legal contracts, and mutual understandings and sentiments can tightly wrap in a bow and make ironclad. While Spiderman has his “spidey” senses and Fred Flintstone “The Great Gazoo,” we only have our instincts, feelings–our hearts–as fallbacks, and we ultimately take giant leaps of faith based on these. When we are shaken like a rag doll because we were wrong, we feel foolish. But as Grace’s young lawyer intimates, taking the risk to trust someone only means we are human.
Grace’s lawyer plays a key role in the film. At age 26, Jasmine, played by Bresha Webb, seemingly accepts her lot as the public defender with a specialty in plea bargaining, until she encounters her new client. Although even then, there are some problematic moments where she pouts and appears to lack any legal training at all. Also pivotal in the film are Phylicia Rashad as Grace’s best friend, "Sarah," and Tyler Perry as Jasmine’s jaded boss who demands nothing more of Jasmine than her legal expertise.
Two-hour movies are rare today and what filmmakers make of the extra 20 to 30 minutes can be intriguing. A Fall from Grace is presented out of order, layered in like a puzzle and forcing the audience to figure out how and where pieces fit to make the story a full yarn. Here, the technique has the effect of inviting viewers into the weaving of the story. Guided through Grace’s narration of past encounters with Shannon, her confidences shared with Sarah, and then combined with Jasmine’s present-day investigation, the film unfolds into something we could have never anticipated. The level of suspense raises the story from something more than a simple, predictable drama to a story that pushes viewers to the edges of their seats.
The Southern urban aesthetics of the film include large, old, picturesque homes pushed back from the street as if giving the audience room to breathe. The addition of dark hues draws the audience’s focus and has the effect of inviting viewers into the story. This setting, though, was disrupted with a single, isolated scene of Grace and Shannon having dinner at a diner that looked like a Checkers - yes, the fast food restaurant. The oddity was compounded by capping off the meal with the two drinking wine from stemware. During this moment, the film lost its aesthetic magic, its feel.
Minus the distraction, I felt like I was in the room during the scenes at Grace’s home and being blanketed with a healthy dose of Southern hospitality. The warmth made it starkly apparent that Shannon did not belong in this space. Calling her "a fool" – and in her own home, he remarks that “A woman your age is low hanging fruit.”
Speaking of age, a treat of the film is an appearance by Cicely Tyson. This is one of her last roles before her death in early 2021, at age 96. Reviewers talk a lot about aging as the subject matter of films (i.e. Book Club and perhaps Trouble with the Curve), but seldom is the topic of age diversity in films broached. While the cast of A Fall from Grace is predominantly Black, age representations range from the youngest Millennials through the Greatest Generation, and all in prominent roles with significant on-screen time. And as for color-struck, this film is a step toward priming audiences to get over it!
Several themes run throughout A Fall from Grace, most more overt than subtle. Among them: Youth is no excuse for lack of persistence. Skepticism is healthy. And at times, you have to trust somebody or you will end up alone. If you are in the mood for a contemporary and suspenseful story with a Southern feel, you might want to give this one a try.