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The Independent Critic

Sarah Drescher, Charla Bocchicchio, Merideth Rose, Meagan Flynn, Michael Ashcroft, Marilyn Lynch, Michelle Daugharthy, Jon Daugharthy, Stefanie Stevens
Stephen Wallace Pruitt
Mary Settle Pruitt, Stephen Wallace Pruitt
110 Mins.

 Movie Review: State of Grace 
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It takes only an encounter or two with Stephen Wallace Pruitt,  co-writer and director of State of Grace, for the word "village" to come immediately to mind. From working alongside his wife Mary Settle Pruitt to manifesting a talented, dependable, and compassionate team of on-screen and off-screen creatives, Pruitt has dedicated his late life passion for filmmaking to creating movies that matter with people who are just as committed to telling real-life stories that inform, inspire, and truly communicate the fullness of the human experience. 

This film, State of Grace, is quite possibly the best film yet from the husband/wife duo behind NEVER2LATE Productions. Having started making movies later in life, the Pruitts are now in their 60's and have been making truly independent feature films since 2008. Working together, they write, produce, cast, design, direct, photograph, edit, color, and sound design every frame of every film.

State of Grace tells the story of Erin (Sarah Drescher), a 31-year-old single mother of one-year-old Grace who loses custody of her child when she's arrested for possession of 11 grams of fentanyl. Desperate to do whatever it takes to get her child back, Erin is faced with the seemingly impossible tasks of conquering her demons and proving to the court that she can be a responsible parent. 

It may seem as if State of Grace tells a familiar story. Films dealing with addiction are a dime a dozen, though the co-writing Pruitts have infused State of Grace with complex layers of humanity to widen the film's narrative tapestry and to ensure that every single character here feels more human than the role they are playing. 

In the earliest moments of State of Grace, Sarah Drescher's Erin is an irritating young woman. Clearly in the throes of addiction and hanging out with the wrong crowd, Erin shares a chaotic home with her mother (Suzanne Bailey) and is clearly struggling with even basic parental responsibilities. However, it's in these opening scenes that Drescher also makes sure we understand that Erin loves her daughter and she plants the seeds for our empathy against fairly dramatic odds. 

At its essence, State of Grace is a film about forgiveness, personal responsibility, and the price of love. Erin is a likable woman possessing tremendous potential, though she's also impacted by obstacle after obstacle and accountability is, by necessity, a tremendous part of her journey. She wins battles. She loses battles. Over the course of time, she begins making better choices even when those choices are devastatingly difficult. Yet, she makes even those most difficult choices with her humanity fully intact. State of Grace is no Hallmark greeting card of a motion picture. Erin slowly learns to set aside her old circle in favor of a new, empowering community yet in so doing this she learns there is a price to love. 

It's that new community that is so riveting here. It starts with Charla Bocchicchio's emotionally honest, deeply engaging turn as Nancy. Supporting Erin in remarkable ways, Nancy is clearly a woman with her own story yet determined to live into a different path. It's a tremendous performance that adds an emotional resonance to State of Grace that is powerful in its impact. 

Merideth Rose shines as Gabrielle in serving up compassionate but hard truths and stark realities. If you're heading down the road to healing, you want someone like Merideth Rose's Gabrielle by your side. 

I've long been a fan of Meagan Flynn's indie work and the same is true here. As Hannah, Flynn is a little more stoic than I'm used to seeing her as she adds gravitas and structure to Erin's life and path forward. 

There are, of course, others in this excellent ensemble including Michael Ashcraft as Vic and Jenna Bickelhaupt as Lucy among others. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Marilyn Lynch as Grammie, a turn that may or may not have brought me to tears. The role of Grammie had originally been intended for longtime Pruitt collaborator Joicie Appell, a veteran actress who passed away not long before shooting began. While Appell's absence is, of course, missed, Lynch, a friend of Appell's, is a tremendous assett who takes her limited time onscreen and hits a home run.

As is always true of a Pruitt film, the original score is a sublime companion. Randy Bonifield beautifully captures the film's emotional rhythms without ever resorting to saccharine sentimentality or histrionics. It's a beautiful score and practically a character unto itself. 

Kudos to the Pruitts for telling an honest story, a realistic tale grounded in real-life joys and sorrows, obstacles and the overcoming of them. While there's happiness to be found here, State of Grace keeps it realistic and the film's natural realism amplifies its heartfelt power.

State of Grace is having its world premiere on June 28th, 2023 at Dances With Films and will then begin what promises to be a rewarding festival journey on the indie film festival circuit. 

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic