It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Grace of My Heart" tells the story of a young woman who wants to be a singer, ends up as a songwriter, and traces in her career the history of pop music from the last gasp of Tin Pan Alley, in the late 1950s, through the psychedelic era of the early 1970s. In its general arc, although not in the details, this is a career like Carole King's, and it ends with that emblem of a personal artistic statement, a concept album.
The heroine, played winningly by Illeana Douglas, is born Edna Buxton but renamed Denise Waverly. She comes from a rich Philadelphia family, and frets under her mother's coaching: For a song contest, she's made to wear a "wedding dress" and ordered to sing "You'll Never Walk Alone." But backstage she trades dresses with another contestant and sings "Hey, There (You With the Stars in Your Eyes)," which as songs go is not a quantum leap from her original choice but good enough to win her the contest, a trip to New York and a "recording contract." The contract, of course, evaporates, and Edna is near despair when she's discovered by an agent named Joel (John Turturro, wearing a hairpiece of bountiful generosity). He likes her writing better than her singing, moves her to the famed Brill Building into a wedge-shaped office barely large enough to hold a piano, and puts her to work. Soon she's composing for new groups and has a few hits.
She meets people. One of her early collaborators and lovers is Howard (Eric Stoltz), who introduces her to the notion that songs can be about something other than June, moon, stars and love. He also introduces her to experiences that will someday help inspire that concept album--things like lying and cheating. She has a crush on a music critic and broadcaster (Bruce Davison) who, alas, really only wants to be friends. Joel also teams her up with a British newcomer (Patsy Kensit), and although they dislike each other at first they become friends and collaborate on a hit for a female vocalist who hides some surprising secrets under her hair-sprayed tresses.
Time marches on. Tin Pan Alley goes out of business and the Brill Building era ends, as singers start writing their own songs. Edna, now known as Denise, moves to Malibu and marries Jay Phillips (Matt Dillon), a character loosely modeled on the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. He inspires her with his arrangements and studio wizardry, but frightens her with his increasing paranoia ("What happened to my tapes?") and one day takes their kids to town and manages to forget them.
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