Falling From Grace
Falling from Grace – 1992

Director John Mellencamp
Screenplay Larry McMurtry
Starring John Mellencamp, Mariel Hemingway, Larry Crane, John Prine, Kay Lenz, Claude Akins, Dub Taylor, Dierde O’Connell

In the early 1990’s Larry McMurtry was never hotter. He just had his Lonesome Dove made into one of the greatest mini-series of all time. John Mellencamp had a string of hit albums in the ’80’s. He also had a string of wives. Mellencamp and McMurtry were also friendly enough that McMurtry wrote the screenplay to Mellencamp’s first film as a semi-biography of the singer and his familial problems. It’s not a one for one comparison, to be sure, but it’s close enough to hurt in a few places.

The film starts out with country star Buddy Parks heading home to Seymour, Indiana (which is also from where Mellencamp was raised) to celebrate the 80th birthday of his grandfather (Taylor). While he is there, he finds out his old girlfriend, P.J. (Lenz) who had married his brother when he left town sometime earlier, is having an affair with his laconic and boorish father Speck (Akins). This puts him in a tailspin of epic proportions, as he bounces around from family member to family member, freshly discovering the misery within which they all live.

There are several good performances in the film, including Larry Crane playing his illegitimate brother Ramey. His contributions to the film are numerous, including writing three of the spectacular songs on the incredible soundtrack and singing one of them. Lenz provides a cutting performance as someone who did a lot of rationalizing to create a successfully horrible life. Akins is an absolute terror.

The weakest elements of the film is the performance of Mellencamp and Prine, who clearly feel like actors sitting in front of a camera (and one behind). This doesn’t mean they are bad or even that the film is not a good one. With a few more films under his belt, Mellencamp might have developed some real skill. As it stands the film feels like a particularly brutal television movie with a few good lines and way too many characters speechifying.

The true contribution of Falling From Grace is in the soundtrack, which to this day contains some of the finest music each contributing artist ever recorded. It is from this soundtrack that I discovered many artists I would follow for years afterwards, like Dwight Yoakam, Nanci Griffith and most of all John Prine. If it were possible to make everyone hear this album just once, the butterfly effect could change more than a few lives.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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