It's crazy enough being a teenager in 1979 suburban New Jersey, what with girl troubles, an uncertain future and the residual allure of a ‘60s lifestyle model that's fast nearing the end of its shelf life. But for Henry Nearing (Gregory Smith of TV's Everwood ), it all pales in comparison to the precipitous collapse of his family in the aftermath of his mother's death. Father Shep (David Morse) has retreated from normal life to become a dour, motorcycle-riding relic of a hippie while an elder brother Blair (David Moscow) has become an expert at running away, both literally and through the aid of controlled substances. Hormones are having their way with Henry, too, drawing him inexorably to the manipulative bad girl, Grace (Jordana Brewster), and rendering him unable to requite the affections of childhood friend Merna (Ashley Johnson), otherwise clearly his perfect match. But Henry is a sturdier soul than even he gives himself credit for, and before senior year is done, he'll be well on his way to understanding, if ever so slightly, what life and love are really all about.
Notwithstanding the familiar Pretty in Pink love triangulation, Nearing Grace is a wise and profoundly evocative film, a soulful remembrance of a forgotten, transitional generation wedged unceremoniously between Baby Boomers and Gen-X. It's a time that director Rick Rosenthal -- who came of age as a filmmaker around the same time -- clearly knows and remembers well. Rosenthal, too, has gone through a variety of transitions in his career, beginning with Halloween II, the acclaimed Bad Boys, one of Sean Penn's first major starring parts, and American Dreamer.
And with the help of Estes' sensitive, restrained adaptation and a surprisingly strong cast of young actors, each seemingly blessed with insights far beyond their years, Rosenthal is able to capture an elusive sense of feeling rare for a movie, much less a coming-of-age film. For Henry isn't so much an adolescent striving for adulthood as he is a nascent human being struggling with the clay that builds character. What most such films interpret as purely hormonal, Rosenthal and Estes see as philosophical -- and that, for those who've long since managed to get a handle on heir chemical natures, but not their actual natures, is the real essence of what it means to finally, at long last, come of age.
Cast: Gregory Smith, Jordana Brewster, David Morse, Ashley Johnson, David Moscow and Chad Faust
Director: Rick Rosenthal
Screenwriter: Jacob Aaron Estes
Producers: Rick Rosenthal, Susan Johnson and Tracy Underwood
Rating: R for drug use, language and sexual content
Running time: 105 min.
Release date: October 13 ltd