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Falling from Grace

As musician-turned-filmmaker vehicles go, John Mellencamp's Falling from Grace (1992) isn't half-bad, and is definitely one of the more modest efforts of its kind. Mellencamp stars in this mostly quiet kitchen-sink drama as Bud, a popular country & western singer who returns to his family's Indiana farm for the 80th birthday of his grandfather (Dub Taylor). Burned out on his music career and L.A. lifestyle, Bud pines for the idealized simplicity of midwestern small-town living, but the old emotions stirred by his return are nothing but difficult. Bud's wealth fosters drink-eased feelings of shame in the proud relatives and friends who depend on him for their livelihoods and it elicits resentment from his brutish father, Speck (Claude Akins), who practices a cruel sense of entitlement upon his offspring. Even though Bud's spunky Californian wife Alice (Mariel Hemingway) is adored by all, Bud nurses a longing for his old flame P.J. (Kay Lenz), who is now married to his brother Parker and, further complicating the emotions involved, sleeping with Speck. When Falling from Grace is occupied with leisurely capturing the local color of Oat City, it is a breezy and engaging piece of work (veteran actor Taylor is particularly fun in this regard), with Mellencamp showing a delicate touch as a director and a natural skill as an actor. However, the family melodrama, while never overplayed, sensational, or sentimental, is unexceptional and offers little or no resonance. One has to admire Mellencamp's lack of rock-star ego: even though he plays type as a singer, there are virtually no scenes of Bud in performance, and the song-filled soundtrack is far from a Mellencamp album, juking instead through succession of estimable songwriters like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, John Prine (who also appears in the movie), Leonard Cohen, and Hank Williams, with only a few songs written by Mellencamp, and only one in his voice (Mellencamp's erstwhile guitarist and songwriting partner Larry Crane also appears in the film, as Bud's half-brother Ramey, and on the soundtrack). But Mellencamp's selfless subservience to the writing is betrayed by the underperforming screenplay by Larry McMurtry, who usually works at a higher standard (See also: Hud, The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment, Lonesome Dove). Nevertheless, Mellencamp showed promise both as an actor and director in his debut but, despite rave reviews from a few powerful critics, his acting appearances since have been rare, and Falling from Grace remains his only effort behind the camera to date. Columbia TriStar presents the film on DVD in a nice anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Trailers for Columbia titles, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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