Coming-of-age films can often be deeply moving, helping the audience to peel back the layers of their own adolescence and even become aware of the unresolved issues that we carry as a result of that. These films can also be wildly convoluted, trying too hard and doing too much at once. A Girl Like Grace is the rare coming-of-age film which happens to be both of these things, fortunately and unfortunately.
Grace (Ryan Destiny) is a 17-year-old Haitian-American girl who lives in a Mississippi trailer park with her mother, Lisa (Garcelle Beauvais). Grace, already a pensive introvert, is starting her senior year as an outcast as well, following the suicide of her best friend, Andrea (Paige Hurd). Lisa, who cares more about the men in her life and how she’s going to pay the bills, is of absolutely no help to Grace in her grief and the mother and daughter, who are portrayed as never having been close to begin with, only grow further apart as Grace becomes more isolated, alert and happy in her frequent daydreams about Andrea while sleepwalking in her interactions with the rest of the world.
Grace soon meets Andrea’s older sister, Share (Meagan Good), who moves back to town to care for her grandmother, and the two become close friends. While they have almost nothing in common, it’s quite obvious that Share is essentially a younger version of Lisa, and watching them grow closer as Grace and Lisa live in a fragile bubble of strained civility is deeply intriguing. Watching Grace relive her last months and days with Andrea, whose suicide is shrouded in mystery for the bulk of the film, is equally intriguing.
A Girl Like Grace could have been amazing, had director, co-writer, and co-star Ty Hodges actually lent more depth to Lisa’s character, who had been abused and lied to by every man she’d ever known, instead of depicting her as merely bitter and neglectful. The film could have also benefited from a true exploration of Andrea and Grace’s relationship, which was strictly platonic in life, but is alluded to being so much more than than in Grace’s daydreams of her. Grace is consumed with guilt over Andrea’s death, and part of this is because she hadn’t been entirely honest about her feelings for her best friend while she was alive. In addition, in the last quarter of the film, Hodges tries to jump genres from coming-of-age to cautionary tale, leaving the audience frustrated and confused.
All that said, A Girl Like Grace was actually very, very good. Beauvais shines as Lisa while Destiny displays a surprising depth and sensitivity in her debut role. Interjecting Haitian Creole into the dialogue lent real authenticity to their interactions as well. Raven-Symone steals quite a few scenes in her role as Mary, the quintessential mean girl and queen bee, reminding the audience why she’s been acting from childhood. The story of two best friends who are tragically parted and how the survivor comes to terms with her life, making peace with the past could have done well to focus on them and less on auxiliary character, but overall, A Girl Like Grace was very well shot and acted, and leaves the audience wanting to see more from the entire cast.
I give this one 3.5 stars.