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By Merle Bertrand | October 25, 2005

One need only to look at the promo material for “Fall To Grace” to recognize that this film is the real deal. Three young faces gaze out upon their nondescript, yet instantly and universally recognizable suburban surroundings; faces that, while attractive, are themselves no more or less spectacular than those same surroundings.

It’s in this unremarkable, common-as-a-Wal-Mart world that these three characters live lives that, again, are as utterly unremarkable as their surroundings. Yet, somehow these teens manage to reach out and grab the viewer, pulling him or her into the drama of their lives and loves the way most Hollywood high-concept clunkers rarely do.

Then again, as I said, this is the real deal.

Jessie Acosta (Jessica Roque), Kristofer Rostropovich (Gabriel Luna), and Sarah Minske (Kira Pozehl) own these faces, their troubled eyes betraying their air of calm, cool confidence. Kristofer hails from Georgia – the ex-Soviet republic, not the southern U.S. state with the peach fixation – and he’s desperately trying to use his passion for basketball to carve out a niche for himself. Though a bit of an outsider, he seems to be faring better than his father, Alexei (Bhagrit Crow), who works as a day laborer to support his young family while vainly trying to start a career.

It may be because he’s not from around these parts, but when Kristofer develops a crush on Sarah, he turns a blind eye to her growing juvenile delinquent tendencies, seeing and thus bringing out only the best in her. Whereas before she met Kristofer, Sarah spent her days smoking pot and popping pills or skipping school and tormenting her sad-sack father, Leo (David Stokey), Sarah now begins to smile, open up, and occasionally even cracks a book or two.

The question is, will it be in time to salvage her friendship with Jessie, Sarah’s best friend since they were kids, especially since Jessie’s policeman father, Carlos (J. Ed Araiza) is keeping an unofficial one-man neighborhood watch on Sarah’s unsavory Uncle Auggie (Bill Johnson). The plot grows more complicated for the three adolescents when Kristofer’s dad gets a job at one of Auggie’s convenience stores, an establishment known more for its illicit drug trading than its Slurpee selection. Before long, Alexie, too, has drawn Carlos’ attention, much to the understandable discomfiture of all three teens.

Writer/director Mari Marchbanks has crafted a genuine portrait of suburban Americana with “Fall To Grace,” especially with regard to our younger citizenry. Neither these kids nor their more-than-slightly dysfunctional families are perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, nor are they the overblown caricatures who, say, inhabit Wisteria Lane in “Desperate Housewives,” either.

It takes a while to get a hold of all these folks and figure out just who belongs to whom, but it’s well worth the wait. Filled with wonderful performances, an ear-grabbing soundtrack, and just enough plot tension to keep the viewer a bit on edge, “Fall To Grace” is a sweet indie slice of suburban apple pie.

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