By George Escobar
Every year, young audiences can count on a spate of teen angst movies coming from Hollywood. The successful ones can quickly establish the careers of indie filmmakers and young stars.
None has been more successful in the past few years than the filmmaking team that wrote and made “The Fault in our Stars,” “The Spectacular Now” and “500 Days of Summer” (which is more young adult than teen).
A few years back it was all about teens living in a dystopian nightmare. Films series such as “The Hunger Games,” “The Divergent Series,” “Twilight” and “The Maze” were all mega box office successes.
This year, a small movie from Canadian filmmaker Tom Simes will try to make its mark in a crowded field.
His movie is called “Because of Grácia,” releasing in theaters on Sept. 15. It’s a teen movie with an adult heart and a loving spirit. It also has a healthy respect for the intelligence of the teen audience it is designed to attract.
The storyline is complex but easy to understand: Grácia Davis is a new student at an upper-middle class high school. When she arrives in debate class, she thinks that she’s the only Christian among her classmates. When Grácia begins to make well-reasoned statements for her beliefs about evolution, other “undercover Christians,” Chase and OB, are challenged to take a stand.
Because Grácia is gracious, warm and confident, her classmates are quickly drawn to her, making both friends and enemies.
Her world soon turns upside down, however, when she confronts an institutional double-standard on freedom of speech in debate class. Even the school faculty are drawn into the clash when a Christian teacher is accused of overstepping the line separating “church and state.”
Concurrently, Grácia befriends a fellow student caught in a destructive relationship that leads to a life-and-death decision. Within this mix is a budding romance between Grácia and Chase, a classmate afraid to even call Grácia for a date. Chase is later inspired to follow Grácia’s bold examples of speaking out for what she believes, and eventually he finds his own voice and courage to challenge the status quo.
Going back 30 years, it was the decade of John Hughes with his iconic films of “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club” that set the stage for dozens of copycats that followed. Explicit themes of sexuality, self-awareness, first-love, hidden romances, rebellion and competition have become the staple fodder in Hollywood’s mostly low view of teens. Seldom does Hollywood push the edge when it comes to the realm of ideas, with the possible exception of “Dead Poets Society,” with its resonant message of “carpe diem” (seize the day).
“Because of Grácia” is not a copycat.
It’s a fresh note on the genre. Much like its heroine, superbly played by Moria Peters, “Because of Gracia” is not afraid to take a stand against Hollywood’s low standards for teens. It’s a movie that challenges young people to do better, to be better, to know better. It’s a challenge everyone in the audience should aspire to undertake.
See a trailer for “Because of Grácia”: