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Everyday people 

Fall to Grace

In a nondescript working-class neighborhood of squat, generic bungalows and chain-link fences, neighbors bicker, teenagers fall in with the wrong crowd and a family of Georgian immigrants struggles to find work and stay honest in the hardscrabble community.

First-time Austin director and writer Mari Marchbanks clearly is intensely interested in an array of personalities, all of them burdened with epic tribulations in her ultra-indie effort Fall to Grace.

As the title suggests, the normal trajectory is to fall from grace. But despite themselves, these friends and neighbors stumble across the grace that lurks within these mean streets.

Pill-popping teenager Sarah (Kira Pozehl) has a drug-dealing uncle Auggie (Bill Johnson) who keeps his kitchen cupboards stocked with a rainbow assortment of pills, and a slattern mother who is stealing from her own husband. Sarah's friend Jessie has been abandoned by her mentally ill mother who has been seen wandering wild-haired through the neighborhood shops. And though he clearly aspires to something better, family man Alexei (Bhagirit Crow) works as a day laborer, swallowing his pride to wash windows, or shill beer at a convenience store.

Marchbanks wants to offer something hopeful in the grim surroundings she's sketched out, but the most she can do is halfheartedly follow in the soulful footsteps of other directors (Jim McKay, John Sayles, Hal Hartley) who have struggled to look beneath the surface of ordinary, struggling people and inject their lives with some spiritual resonance and nobility.

Marchbanks' reach in breaking off such a huge cast and a wild tangle of subplots is admirable even if the obstacles involved in such an enterprise conspire against her. Marchbanks is, for one thing, dealing with a host of Austin, Texas-based actors whose tentative performances often strain plausibility. And some of her dialogue would be a challenge even for the Redgrave sisters, but is especially cumbersome and grandiose when haltingly spoken by her green cast.

Characters tend to occupy cartoonishly extreme positions, like the lip-curled punk Jacko, who sells Auggie's drugs at the local convenience store and actually wears a mohawk as advertisement of his lawlessness.

It's not the only time in the film that viewers may have to suspend disbelief at the sight of these lightweights somehow managing to strong-arm the community's tough men -- like the cast of A History of Violence being intimidated by Andy Hardy and his crew.

Fall to Grace. 2 stars. Directed by Mari Marchbanks. Stars Bhagirit Crow, Kira Pozehl, Bill Johnson. Not Rated. Opens Fri., July 7. Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

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