Editor's note: This film is opening only in limited release in Canada, but will be available to U.S. viewers at www.cineclix.com.

A schizophrenic woman, convinced that Jesus is returning in three days, draws up DaVinci-esque plans for a flying machine that will transport the faithful out of this world at the moment of the Apocalypse. When her missionary brother Dominic (Paul McGillion, a less-weathered Mel Gibson) returns from war-ravaged Sierra Leone for their mother's funeral, Grace disappears into the Vancouver streets to evade treatment and spread the word about Christ's imminent return.

If the film treated Grace's religious faith entirely as a symptom of her mental illness, See Grace Fly might hold little interest, apart from Gina Chiarelli's stunning, fearless work in the title role. But screenwriter Pete McCormack attempts something much trickier and more truthful—he gives us a woman with a legitimate faith, masked by the symptoms of mental illness. For all of Grace's confusion, we are never allowed to forget that there is a real human soul in there, an intelligent and compassionate woman who is operating with complete sanity in a world that seems to her to have lost its grip on the truth.

Gina Chiarelli is compelling in the role of Grace

Gina Chiarelli is compelling in the role of Grace

The real fascination comes with one further level of complication. Could it be that Grace is not only an authentic Christian, but that she's also right? About the Second Coming? About her calling? Because she's right about a lot of things—things she couldn't know by ordinary, rational means—Dominic is forced to examine his own faith: earthbound, weary and emotionally detached.

As refreshing as it is to see a film which sets aside all the galling Bad Missionary stereotypes perpetuated by everybody from Peter Weir to Barbara Kingsolver, the faith of the Dominic character ultimately rings false—he feels more like an NGO worker than a genuine missionary. His reaction to a sexual episode late in the film just doesn't sit right. It's not that a Christian wouldn't be sexually tempted, or that some of the scene's wonderfully surprising consequences might not occur—God is wildly unpredictable, more interested in drawing people to himself than in dotting every moral "i." But Dominic's response just doesn't convince. Where's the agony of conscience, some awareness that there's been a moral compromise, something that'll need to be worked through? It's as if the writer just doesn't see the problem.

Paul McGillion plays Dominic

Paul McGillion plays Dominic

A great strength of McCormack's writing is a certain sense of humor and proportion, the way in which weighty moments are punctuated by a self-deprecating comment or just plain old reality. I love Grace's flashes of lucidity and frankness about her own mental difficulties, and the truths she speaks in the midst of her mania.

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At other times, though, See Grace Fly suffers from First Screenplay Syndrome, with on-the-nose dialogue and undigested side-plots: particularly jarring are an incest reference that needed to be developed or cut, and an utterly peripheral sperm donor sidetrack that seriously misjudges the tone of the scene where it's inexplicably introduced. The concluding scenes reach for ambiguity and mystery but seem merely indecisive; instead of choosing among several possible resolutions, the film inexplicably hands us a couple and leaves us to sort everything out.

Tom Schulte plays the part of James

Tom Schulte plays the part of James

An excruciatingly tiny budget means that occasional great-looking scenes are forgotten in a visual context that's mostly bland and badly lit. But the guerilla-filming tactics also yield some of the movie's most extraordinary moments, such as an unforgettable sequence where Grace distributes yellow sticky notes to drivers stopped in traffic: real drivers, real traffic, real risk and energy.

The film's fans—and they are many, judging by a handful of festival awards—feared that technical problems would hurt its chances for theatrical release, but heart and artistic ambition have triumphed. See Grace Fly is opening in select Canadian cities and will soon be available to American viewers through www.cineclix.com.

I'd rather see a flawed but gutsy film like See Grace Fly than the kind of plastic perfection so often served up at the multiplex. Leonard Cohen wrote about the cracks in things, "That's how the light gets in." The consumer-tested design and polished surfaces of so many commercial films render them unlikely to bring us much spiritual truth—at least, not the incarnational kind that shone through when Jesus took on flesh and lived out a dusty, sweaty life in Palestine. But where big money projects can fail, a rough and passionate project like this might just succeed. And whatever you make of the film's artistic and technical shortcomings, there is no denying its fierce integrity, and the power of Gina Chiarelli's heart-hurting performance.

For more on the film, check the official website.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. There can be a thin line between holiness and madness; just look at your average Old Testament prophet, or some of the great saints of the church. What do you make of Grace's "supernatural" insights? Can they be explained away? Are they related to her mental disturbances, or might they come from a genuine spiritual gift?
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  1. Kate has endless intellectual questions about Christianity, in contrast to the straightforward faith of Father James. What do you think of her spiritual journey? Is it convincing?
  2. While it's clear that Grace has mental problems, she is also a woman of real faith. Where do you see that shine out, even in her emotional pain and confusion?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

This film is not suitable for younger viewers, particularly due to a fairly extended sexual encounter between two of the characters: while there is little nudity, it is clear that the two characters are engaged in intercourse, and the character's response to that experience might trouble some viewers. The film also contains a moderate amount of strong language, and some realistic views of street life, which are appropriate but troubling.

See Grace Fly
Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Average Rating
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Mpaa Rating
Directed By
Pete McCormack
Run Time
1 hour 31 minutes
Gina Chiarelli, Paul McGillion, Ben Immanuel
Theatre Release
September 01, 2003 by See Grace Fly Productions
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