It's been 15 years since "Slacker" put Austin, Texas, on the map as an indie-film capital, and now along comes "Fall to Grace," which uses Austin as an effectively nondescript setting for its sympathetic portrait of melting-pot suburbia.
Watching this admirable but rough-edged debut by writer-director Mari Marchbanks, you wouldn't be surprised if a character from "Slacker" came strolling around a corner in its generic working-class neighborhood.
Marchbanks makes good use of similar environs, but where "Slacker" wandered amiably from one character to another, "Fall to Grace" weaves its characters in a tapestry of interconnected vignettes.
One way or another, they're all trying to fill gaps in their lives, compensating for dysfunctional families or struggling to survive, financially or emotionally. Marchbanks' screenplay flits from one character to another with a hummingbird's efficiency. While it's initially tricky to keep track of who's doing what to whom and why, the film settles into an elliptical groove that's quietly satisfying.
Kristofer (Gabriel Luna) is a Russian immigrant with modest hoop dreams and a father, Alexei (Bhagirit Crow), who struggles as a day laborer before taking a clerk job in a local convenience store. Kristofer's smitten with Sarah (Kira Pozehl), whose casual drug abuse is a cry for help and a buffer between her and her unhappily married parents.
Sarah's best friend, Jessie (Jessica Roque), dreams of a trip to Paris. Jessie's father is a cop, who's keeping his eye on Sarah's uncle Auggie (Bill Johnson), a corpulent dealer who's the blight of the neighborhood.
These and other characters are loosely woven into the movie's comfortable fabric, and "Fall to Grace" works best when they collide with unpredictable results. For example, in one scene, common sense prevails over potential violence.
And despite uneven performances from an Austin-based cast, Marchbanks captures a strained yet hopeful perspective on the immigrant experience that consistently rings true.
Less effective are the film's occasional dips into overwrought melodrama, and "Fall to Grace" (which draws heavily from the Austin music scene for its understated score) ultimately bites off a little more than it can dramatically chew.
Still, this is an indie film in the genuine spirit of the word (not some studio-subsidized boutique product), showing compassion while following its own course of low-key redemption. That's enough reason to hope that Marchbanks doesn't fade into obscurity.
Jeff Shannon: firstname.lastname@example.org