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The Power of Pop

There isn't nearly so much honesty in Edna's relationship with Howard Caszatt (Eric Stoltz), a smart-aleck hipster who thinks of himself as an enlightened social activist. He talks Edna into co-writing a song about teenage pregnancy, a tune that is promptly banned by most radio stations. (Mind you, this happens a good 20 years before Madonna's "Papa, Don't Preach.") Later, after he gets Edna pregnant, he agrees to marry her, despite his longtime aversion to the bourgeois institution of marriage. Unfortunately, fidelity is not his strong suit.

It's clear that Anders used Carole King as one of her real-life models for Edna. It's even more obvious that Jay Phillips, the record producer and surf-music star played by Matt Dillon, is a smudged carbon of Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson. Edna's marriage to the deeply troubled Jay takes up much of the movie's final third. The pace is slower, and the tone more melancholy, during this section of Grace of My Heart, and that may bother some members of the audience. But think of the movie as a concept-album CD, and the scenes with Dillon as the melancholy ballads that alternate with livelier songs. It's the same singer, and the same songwriter, in a slightly different tempo.

Speaking of music: Anders has avoided using real golden oldies for the Grace of My Heart soundtrack. Instead, she had composers create new material with a pronounced "period" feel. One particularly effective ballad, "God Give Me Strength," is the joint effort of two unlikely collaborators: Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello. No kidding.

Dillon is hauntingly credible as Jay, while Eric Stoltz does a fine job of juggling charm and caddishness as Howard. Other supporting players of note include Patsy Kensit as a rival songwriter who becomes Edna's friend and collaborator, David Clennon as a hippie psychologist who's smarter than he seems, Bridget Fonda as a superstar singer who isn't all that she seems, and Bruce Davison as a married music journalist who has a brief but passionate affair with Edna. It's worth noting that Joel Millner disapproves of Edna's adulterous dalliance. But only because it distracts her from her songwriting.

-- Joe Leydon

Grace of My Heart.
Directed by Allison Anders. With Illeana Douglas, Matt Dillon, John Turturro and Eric Stoltz.

Rated R.
115 minutes.

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