Despite our strengths in other genres of film (read: the incredible black comedy/Western The Dressmaker), there is an archetype of Australian film that mostly feels complacent. It’s the kitchen sink drama, films that attempt to explore our disconnection with our national identity, our discomfort with ourselves, and how lost we feel amidst the expansive Australian landscapes through either overwritten or underwritten drama, off-base attempts at humour, and often tragedy.
Sue Brooks’s Looking for Grace is a film that conforms to the archetype to a tee. The setting is Western Australia, a region known to be one of the most isolated in the world, and it includes two road trips that both end tragically, both heavy-handed evocations of being trapped in oneself. But Brooks’s screenplay fails to forge a connection, shifting perspectives from the titular 16 year old Grace to even a walk on character of a long distance truck drive many times during the film, never lingering on a subject enough to fully grasp exactly what they’re doing. The last third of the film, after it has switched from a film about teenage rebellion and identity to an awkward domestic comedy/drama (despite what the advertising is communicating, the film is not a comedy), becomes a drama intended to give the audience some kind of emotional payoff. However, Brooks has kept the audience at arm’s length from the characters, containing them in their mawkish middle class Australian stereotypes for the first two acts, meaning that suddenly asking for emotional involvement is met with shrugs of indifference. Brooks intends to be moving towards some kind of discovery about indeed our fragmented personal, interpersonal, and national relationships, giving this journey meaning and making Looking for Grace more than another run-of-the-mill Australian drama. But as the film meanders, it sadly just becomes another archetypal Australian domestic drama. The search is a fruitless one.