The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Saturday, October 5, 1996             TAG: 9610050032
TYPE: Movie Review 
                                            LENGTH:   57 lines


``GRACE OF My Heart'' is the musical story of a woman who learns to sing her own song. It introduces to top billing a unique actress named Ileana Douglas who effectively carries it - most of the way. As is usual in this male-bashing era of movies, most of the men in her life are nogoodniks.

Complete with new music, ``Grace of My Heart'' is a rarity in that it attempts to re-create the movie musical at the same time it suggests an entire pop-music era, from 1958 through the turbulent 1960s. It's a tough, sweeping and all-but-impossible assignment that is nonetheless interesting to watch. At two hours and 35 minutes it is way too long and much too repetitive (one bad affair after another with intermittent stops for songs).

Douglas, a protege of director Martin Scorsese who acted as executive producer here, is a find. She is, refreshingly, not a screen beauty. Rather, she has something of the spunk of a Streisand but with the cheerfulness of a Goldie Hawn. She's an offbeat leading lady - and a particularly welcome one. She had a stand-out bit part as the ice-skating sister in ``To Die For.''

She plays Edna Buxton, a girl from a wealthy Philadelphia family who declares her independence by running off to New York. Hoping to become a singer, she becomes a songwriter instead, with the new name of Denise Waverly. Eventually, she gets to sing her own hit songs, with precious little help from the men in her life. The scenario has been widely compared to the real life of Carole King.

Matt Dillon plays a suffering surf music superstar named Jay Phillips who has an ill-fated marriage with her. (Those anxious to play the game of real-life comparisons will brand him the Brian Wilson character). Eric Stoltz plays her first husband and collaborator. Bruce Davison is a songwriter and magazine editor who becomes her confidante. John Turturro is her manager.

These are all stock show biz characters and, unfortunately, they do and say nothing that is not predictable.

Most interesting is the mix of original songs by songwriting teams from both the past and present, including Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach. Other writing contributors include Carole Bayer Sager, Los Lobos and Joni Mitchell.

Allison Anders, who directed ``Gas Food Lodging,'' wrote and directed and is obviously passionate about leading us on her heroine's journey. The trip is perhaps too sweeping, and too general, to make any real impact. But we can appreciate the effort. ILLUSTRATION: Graphic


``Grace of My Heart''

Cast: Ileana Douglas, Matt Dillon, Eric Stoltz, Bruce Davison,

John Turturro

Director and writer: Allison Anders

Music: Larry Klein

MPAA rating: R (some language, sexual situations but a somewhat

mild R)

Mal's rating: two and 1/2 stars

Location: Naro in Norfolk by CNB