Saying Goodbye To “The Good Place” With “Gracie’s Choice”

by Rachel Bellwoar

Since the series finale of The Good Place airs this week on NBC, it seemed like a good time to check out another movie starring the show’s lead actress, Kristen Bell. Gracie’s Choice is a Lifetime movie which originally aired in 2004. You can tell because Bell has the same haircut she had in the first season of Veronica Mars.

Bell plays Gracie, but while there are some scenes in Joyce Eliason’s teleplay that lack subtlety, she does not face Sophie’s Choice, no matter what the title suggests. Inspired by a true story and based partly on a Reader’s Digest article by Rena Dictor LeBlanc, Gracie is the oldest of four half-siblings. Her mom, Rowena (Anne Heche, who was nominated for an Emmy award), is an addict who’s always bringing home new boyfriends and forcing her children to change schools. When she’s arrested, Gracie and her family go to live with their grandmother (Diane Ladd) and life gets a little more stable for a while, but Gracie’s mom doesn’t stay in jail long and it falls on Gracie to make sure she and her brothers stay together.

Like on Shameless, Gracie eventually petitions for guardianship, but that trial takes place at the end of the movie. Before that, there are quite a few other legal decisions Gracie has to win, like emancipation so she can be in charge of the money instead of her grandmother. As much as their grandmother does for them, she can’t say no to her daughter, whenever she comes around looking for a cut of the welfare check.

Peter Werner’s direction is inoffensive, and the story plays out in a predictable manner (not that a true story is obligated to surprise you, but either life is that cruel or Eliason knows when to time a death in the family). All of the adults seem to exist to discourage Gracie, and if Gracie’s boyfriend, Tommy, wasn’t a thankless role anyway, actor Shedrack Anderson doesn’t make it more difficult.

The child actors who play Gracie’s siblings (Brian Akins, David Gibson McLean, and Jack Armstrong) do a good job, and Bell is very believable as the high schooler who’s had to be an adult from a young age. While other movies would’ve made the trial the big event, Eliason takes care not to jump over other parts of the process. She also doesn’t show people coming to Gracie’s aid all of the time. Every step of the way is a fight, and it’s her doing the fighting. None of those sympathetic, good Samaritans that are so tricky to find outside of movies, and no easy breaks. Gracie has a mom and a grandmother. Her sister, Rose (Kristin Fairlie), is the second oldest, but is unable to be the reliable back-up Gracie could sorely use.

If Shameless shows a family surviving by bending the rules, Gracie’s Choice looks at what it entails if you decide to follow them.

Gracie’s Choice is available on DVD from Mill Creek Entertainment.

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