Sue Brooks is most famous for Japanese Story, which plonked Toni Colette in the harsh landscape of the Australian outback. In Looking for Grace the opening titles play out to scenes of bucolic loveliness, the colours and textures like the brushstrokes of a landscape artist thanks to the work of cinematographer Katie Milwright. The landscape has particular relevance, a symbol for the youth and beauty of the eponymous Grace (Odessa Young), the teen we meet on a bus en route to a Death Dog gig far from home.
She’s accompanied by her mate Sappho (Kenya Pearson), the more timid and sensible of the two, as they head bang to music with their shared ear buds. When Grace lets her peek into her rucksack to see what she’s brought along on their escapade, Brooks leaving the audience to guess its contents, Sappho’s face is one of consternation and we gradually see her slip away from Grace until she decides to jump ship and head back home.
The story is told from different viewpoints, without ever being repetitive. The different perspectives work together to create a whole and offer a truth, with storylines that had been left dangling eventually being tied up and resolved. We start with Grace’s story and then meet the other protagonists: her worried parents and their ridiculous coterie of family and neighbours, Tom (Terry Norris), the private investigator called in to search for Grace and some missing money.
Radha Mitchell as mum is great as the bored and exasperated housewife in charge of a spotless and sterile family home while dad (Richard Roxburgh) is perfectly poised between angry idiocy and extreme tenderness and honesty.
Like Roxburgh’s performance, Brooks has created a fine balance between humour and darkness, which are often such great bedfellows. Though at times the humour is laid on a little thick, at others – particularly Roxburgh’s scenes – it is finely sketched. The various stories show how seemingly disparate lives become intertwined. We realise that while Looking for Grace is a literal search for the girl of that name, it is something of a journey of the soul and redemption. The result is a tender and bittersweet drama about the vagaries of life and the consequences of our actions.