Gracie's Choice: A Story of Love (2004)

Kristen Bell, Brian Akins, David Gibson McLean, Jack Armstrong in Gracie's Choice: A Story of Love (2004)

Gracie's Family Saved by the Bell

All her life 16 year old Gracie (Kristen Bell) has cared for her 3 brothers and sister, each the result of a different relationship, as her mother Rowena (Anne Heche) is a lousy mother only interested in having fun with the various men who enter their lives, often with drink and drugs. When Gracie's troubled existence becomes known to the staff at school it seems that the family are going to be town apart as Rowena is arrested and they get separated into care. But having basically been mother to her siblings Gracie won't let this happen and is forced to make both tough decisions and even tougher sacrifices to keep the family together with Rowena not part of it.

Made for TV movies, especially those which tend to get put on in the afternoon, are often a sentimental bunch, stories which create emotional responses and deliver melodrama. And if you were to stumble across and watch "Gracie's Choice: A Story of Love" you would probably expect this to be another bitter sweet melodrama which is both sentimental and inspiring, well it is a Lifetime Channel movie. But don't dismiss "Gracie's Choice: A Story of Love" because whilst it is all the things you associate with an afternoon TV movie it also has a good storyline, some genuine drama, and emotion and most importantly good performances from both Anne Heche and Kristen Bell which make it worth watching.

Kristen Bell and Anne Heche in Gracie's Choice: A Story of Love (2004)

To be fair there is a lot to "Gracie's Choice: A Story of Love" which you could say is the stuff of any routine afternoon melodrama especially as it is based on an inspiring and emotional true story. But where as many of these movies come across as shallow and overly sentimental, director Peter Werner has done a terrific job of delivering the heart and emotion of this story whilst still giving the sentimental side you expect. As such Werner has basically split "Gracie's Choice" into 3 sections, you could say typical sections which inevitably lead to, yes you guessed, it Gracie making a choice, but it works.

In the first part of "Gracie's Choice: A Story of Love" we enter the desperate world of Gracie with a bang as we watch the home they are staying in raided by cops on a drugs bust. It immediately makes us aware that Rowena is an unfit mother, the sort who does what she wants and this continues as this picture of Gracie's life is built where she struggles at school whilst caring for her brothers and sister. The second part is what you could call the first step to a better life, living with their Gran and whilst still at school Gracie basically becomes her mother to her siblings, taking and collecting them from school, working a part time job and doing the housework. And Gracie also finds some happiness but there is also bitterness as Rowena shows up and manipulates her own mum in order to move back in with the family as well as steal benefits. And then we get to the final section where with everything going well for Gracie, she is managing running a home, caring for her siblings, doing well at school and so on till some road bumps appear. I won't say what they are but they are good road bumps and well worked so that each problem which Gracie encounter's is real and emotional as she has to decide between doing what is right for her, right for her mum, right for Tommy and right for her family.

The things about all of this is that "Gracie's Choice: A Story of Love" could have turned into a cheesy mess where sentiment is manufactured and humour is thrown in to try and deliver lightness. Yet director Peter Werner doesn't do this, he shows the trials and tribulations in a real way, maybe slightly sanitized seeing this is a TV movie but never cheapening the story with humour. A scene where Gracie and young Robbie get caught in the middle of a drive by shooting has a huge emotional punch as we see how shaken Gracie is, how upset her Grandma is and how Gracie's eldest brother Ryan is emotionally angry when the police are less than gentle with their questioning. That same sense of reality shows up all over the place from the police busting Rowena to the kids going into care.

The thing which really makes "Gracie's Choice: A Story of Love" work is some great performances, there isn't a bad performance in the whole movie and Shedrack Anderson III does a good job as Tommy the boyfriend especially when he wants Gracie to think about herself for once. But it is two performances, those from Anne Heche and Kristen Bell which really turn "Gracie's Choice: A Story of Love" into something more than average. Anne Heche as the manipulative Rowena is so powerful especially in the way she tries to manipulate those around her to get what she wants especially during the final third of the movie, really establishing what a shallow character she is. And then there is Kristen Bell as Gracie and whilst immediately we warm to Gracie because she looks and acts nice we also understand how much her family means to her, how heart breaking it is when the boys end up in care and how much she will sacrifice to keep the family together.

What this all boils down to is that in many ways "Gracie's Choice: A Story of Love" is your typical emotional and inspiring TV movie. But it has a director who understands the emotion of the story as well as performances from Anne Heche and Kristen Bell which lift it into being something more than just another TV movie and most definitely a worthwhile watch.