POPPING THE DEATH MYTH

Hard on the crepe heels of Tom Hanks's gluey, bubblegum evocation of 1960s pop That Thing You Do! comes Grace of My Heart, a film about 1960s songwriters at the Brill Building hit factory, by film-maker Allison Anders, director of Gas Food and Lodging and Mi Vida Loca. The film stars Illeana Douglas as Denise Waverly, a Carole King-like songwriter who spends that mythologised decade penning hits on a pop production line for producer Joel Millner (John Turturro) and failing at relationships with a string of songwriters, journos and producers.

Unlike many pop biographers, Anders has chosen a modest star for her hagiography which makes the film less of a pre-ordained ritual. The enjoyment here has little to do with the time honoured trajectory of raw talent followed (and given an extra frisson) by untimely demise (The Buddy Holly Story, La Bamba) or even the adolescent allure of sex and death personified by Jim Morrison and realised with such stupefying bombast by Oliver Stone's The Doors. There's no shortage of tragic heroines to be found in the music industry: Janis Joplin is a favourite (Bette Midler played her in The Rose, Lili Taylor is down for the part in the next version), and Diana Ross has already successfully impersonated heroin heroine Billie Holiday, so Anders's choice probably has more to do with her status as independent director of low-key women's pictures. Her approach is less worshipful, more fun. This is a kitsch backstage musical that doesn't take itself too seriously. Anders plays with characterisation and silly hairdos. Bridget Fonda is buried somewhere beneath a sticky beehive, John Turturro sports a nasty spray-flick/goatee combo.

There are many recognisable elements here: nostalgia dressed up as authenticity, the journey of self-discovery from exploitative producers towards the expressive personal album. But what distinguishes it from the usual formula is its feminisation. This is, above all a ree-la-tionship movie, a women's magazine story of triumph over adversity. In that genre, being a Tina Turner-style emotional survivor is a bigger accolade even than dying in a plane crash.

Liese Spencer

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