'Grace': Film Review | Napa Valley 2018

Rings true.

Devin Adair’s feature debut stars Tate Donovan and Katie Cassidy as frustrated novelists locked in a contentious personal and professional relationship.

Indie producer Devin Adair changes things up to write and direct Grace, a close-up take on the challenges and rewards that writing fiction poses for both experienced authors and novices alike. Modestly scaled and tightly focused on its lead characters, Adair’s feature offers an authentic perspective on nurturing creativity while maintaining a playful tone that’s both entertaining and endearing.

Several years after the smashing debut of his first novel and close to exhausting a multi-million-dollar advance on his second book, Charlie Elliston (Tate Donovan) has become a near-recluse, withdrawing into the vast, darkened chambers of his family’s Revolutionary-era Massachusetts manse. His epic bout of procrastination, alternating between intensive research and concerted goofing off, will be familiar to writers of diverse sensibilities, although Charlie has raised serial dithering to a truly rarified level. He barely interacts with anyone except his literary agent and college buddy Bernie (Matthew Lillard), delegated to run interference with increasingly impatient publisher Liz (Missi Pyle), who’s threatening to sue Charlie to claw back the advance unless she gets some chapters in short order.

Desperate for results, Bernie hires barista and aspiring novelist Dawn (Katie Cassidy) to move out to the house and keep Charlie on task while attempting to bring some order to his chaotic home life as his new assistant. Bernie doesn't do much to soften Charlie up for Dawn’s arrival though, so she finds him in full preppy frat-boy mode, practicing his air guitar licks and displaying clear opposition to her presence. Dawn takes it probably too hard and responds rather aggressively, pushing them both to the brink of confrontation. When Charlie discovers that she’s a writer though, he begins to drop his guard, but a brief thaw in hostilities may not be enough to get him back on track and salvage his latest project.

Adair enthusiastically seizes on the notable challenge of portraying the creative struggles of not one, but two troubled novelists. Unlike the recent Colette, which included a string of literary successes for its protagonist to celebrate, these writers barely produce pages at all. Instead, they openly contend with their unreliable creative impulses and each other, which admittedly makes for better entertainment then watching actors staring unproductively at computer screens.

Make no mistake however, the stakes are almost as high as they can get, namely achieving the distinction of becoming a successful novelist. So it’s no wonder that Charlie and Dawn are always at each other. Lacking either motivation or inspiration, the ongoing conflict revives them, imbuing their creative struggles with renewed energy.

Donovan and Cassidy are well matched as the combative writers and Adair keeps their dynamic fluid, so that it’s never quite clear which will gain the upper hand in their contentious relationship. A couple of late plot twists stretch credibility a bit, but a conclusion that demonstrates the merits of transposing personal history into imaginative fiction suits the narrative while affirming the authenticity of the creative process.

Production companies: Ouroboros Entertainment, New Artists Alliance, Adair Entertainment
Cast: Tate Donovan, Katie Cassidy, Matthew Lillard, Debby Ryan, Missi Pyle
Director-writer: Devin Adair
Producers: Gabe Cowan, Laure Sudreau, Devin Adair
Executive producer: Susan Wrubel
Director of photography: Nicholas Wiesnet
Production designer: Yong Ok Lee
Costume designer: Lindsay Zir 
Editor: Jan Kovac  
Music: Mandy Hoffman 
Venue: Napa Valley Film Festival
101 minutes