Grace of My Heart: Scorsese Produces Allison Anders Middling Melodrama, Starring Girlfriend Ileana Douglas

Allison Anders’ Grace of My Heart, began when director Martin Scorsese wanted to team her with his then girl friend, actress Ileana Douglas (granddaughter of actor Melvyn Douglas), for a film to be produced by him.

The story traces the career of a woman who yearns to be a singer, but ends up as a Tin Pan Alley songwriter.  Spanning from the 1950s through the psychedelic 1970s, and covering too much thematic ground, Anders falls into a predictable narrative rhythm: Every scene is followed with the song it inspired, and back again. The men represent narrowly conceived types, and the relationships too schematic. Anders’ message–in the 1960s guys were either creeps or married men–is reductive and embarrassing.

Instead of offering an in-depth look, Anders opts for a sprawling, old-fashioned melodrama in the vein of A Star Is Born and The Way We Were. As the critic Richard Corliss pointed out, a historian could quibble with the details, but the problem is not historical, it’s dramatic. The Anders touch–energy, color–is in limited supply, failing to compensate for an obvious approach, as when a character intones, “marriage is a bourgeois convention.”

The L.A. Weekly critic Ella Taylor noted that Grace of My Heart is the first film in which Anders achieves a measure of distance from her central creative neurosis: the search for an absent male. At film’s end, Denise is told: “Your talent has been meaningless to you.”

It’s the first conscious evaluation of what has been the unconscious heart of Anders’ work. Grace of My Heart is the story of a woman for whom no amount of success can make up for the fact that the absent male is her first priority, only now she knows it. In its emotional essentials, the movie is the untidy story of Anders herself.”

The film’s below mediocrity precipitated the decline of Anderson as an indie filmmaker in what began as a promising career (Gas Food Lodging) and quickly (within four years) escalated into the periphery.