7 Reasons Funeral Directors Should Be Excited About The Movie ‘Getting Grace’
Mar 15, 2018
From the moment you see the credits appear on different casket lids, the movie Getting Grace hooks you. Within just the first five minutes, you become immediately invested in the movie’s characters, setting and important themes. At the 2017 NFDA Convention, I had an opportunity to screen the first third of the film and was moved by its sharp writing, compelling acting and fresh portrayal on the funeral profession. The poignancy of the film, coupled with the way it dispels many misconceptions, make this movie a rare gem that every funeral director should see.
In honor of the movie’s upcoming release on March 23, here are 7 reasons funeral directors should be excited about Getting Grace
1. Realistic Portrayal of Funeral Professionals
As Ed Defort, Publisher of The Director, stated before the film screening at the NFDA Convention, funeral director characters in movies are very rarely main protagonists. Their depictions in both film and television are usually relegated to shifty or untrustworthy characterizations. Getting Grace turns that well-worn formula on its head by telling the story of a disaffected funeral director who discovers how to better embrace life from a teenage girl with terminal cancer.
At the 2017 NFDA Convention, ASD had an opportunity to meet Daniel Roebuck, who wrote, directed and stars in Getting Grace. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the film and what is involved with directing a movie that largely takes place inside a funeral home.
Daniel Roebuck at the 2017 NFDA Convention
Daniel plays Bill Jankowski, a funeral director who has difficulty relating to other people and whose perspective is completely transformed by Grace, a 16-year-old girl dying of cancer. In the film, you also get to meet Bill’s sister, Mary Jankowski, who is played by Diane Wagner. The film does a wonderful job of showing how differently funeral directors might approach their work. There is a great line Mary gives early in the movie where she explains how in the funeral business, “there are huggers, and ugh!-ers” – meaning that some directors get involved in funeral service because they love to be around people and others prefer to work behind the scenes.
Daniel Roebuck and Diane Wagner who play Funeral Directors, Bill and Mary Jankowski in Getting Grace
The dynamic between Bill and Mary is such a joy to watch because never before in any movie or television show have you seen a relationship like theirs. Sibling banter blends seamlessly with funeral home jargon, producing dialogue that is both hilarious and sincere. The characters are fully formed and seem very much like real people. While Bill is very cynical and disenchanted with his life in the beginning of the film, he is still a character the audience can easily identify with and relate to.
Although the TV show Six Feet Under did a superb job of showing what goes on behind the scenes in a funeral family, it had many adult themes, some of which were very dark and not appropriate for minors. Getting Grace, on the other hand, gives funeral families the opportunity to watch a movie together and see their lives represented on screen for the first time.
In addition to its genuine portrayal of funeral directors, Getting Grace has done an exceptional job at authentically depicting the profession as a whole. Every detail was considered heavily to ensure that the film was a true reflection of what goes on inside a funeral home.
ASD learned that much of the basis for Daniel’s understanding of the funeral profession came from real-life funeral directors, Demetrios and Paula Herron. Daniel and Demetrios attended the same High School in Bethlehem, PA where the movie takes place and where John F. Herron Funeral Home & Crematory is located. Daniel knew that his friend’s advice and wisdom would be instrumental in developing his character, not to mention the filming of the movie. Much of the film is shot within the John F. Funeral Home in Bethlehem, PA as well as the Sell-Herron Funeral Home in Allentown, PA which are owned and operated by Demetrios and Paula.
“If it wasn’t for Paula and Demetrios, it would not be authentic,” Daniel stated during the Q&A Panel that took place after the movie screening. “They were always concerned about making things look dignified and making sure filming was respectful to families in the funeral home.”
John F. Herron Funeral Home & Crematory in Bethlehem, PA, one of the locations where Getting Grace was filmed
How many times have you seen a funeral scene in a movie or TV show only to find yourself counting inaccuracies rather than watching the action? How many times have you asked, ‘why couldn’t they have just asked a funeral director?’ The producers of Getting Grace were careful not to make this mistake. According to Daniel, Demetrios and Paula helped the film producers with set design and the placement of props in the funeral scenes. They also read over the script to assist with terminology. The entire funeral profession owes a debt of gratitude for these directors who took time out of their busy schedules to help ensure this movie accurately represented the funeral home business. The outcome of the their efforts will no doubt have a positive impact for all.
“I wish that more people could see that funeral directors are just normal people,” Paula stated during the Q&A Panel. Indeed, Getting Grace will certainly go a long way in helping people to better understand the rewards and challenges of being a funeral home director in a way that no other movie has done before.
3. The Storyline
While funeral directors will find a lot to love in the movie Getting Grace, the storyline of the heartfelt dramedy will resonate with many people. It is a story about finding the right perspective to fully live your life and explores how people can unexpectedly alter your preconceived notions. The movie is centered around Grace, an exuberant teenager with terminal cancer who is determined to explore every aspect of life. This journey along the spectrum of human emotion results in Grace having a profound effect on just about every person she encounters in the movie, inspiring them to ask themselves, am I really living my life?
In an interview with PBS, Daniel Roebuck explained, “It is weird when you say I’ve got this comedy about a teenage girl dying of cancer, but when you meet Grace in this movie, you will see why it’s a comedy. We have an irascible, wonderful, beautiful, charming, silly girl who in the last few months of her life goes in and teaches everyone else to remember to live life to the fullest and only a character like that could.”
In the beginning of the movie, Grace decides to visit a funeral home after seeing the funeral director out front and pondering what his existence might be like. Like most of her decisions in the movie, it is driven by a spontaneous whim. This type of mindset is foreign to people like Funeral Director, Bill Jankowski, who is immediately put off by Grace when she frightens off a couple interested in preplanning. Initially, Bill does not take Grace seriously when she says she wants to learn what will happen to her after she is gone. But then, when he realizes she isn’t going anywhere, he decides it would be better for his sister to talk to Grace.
Obviously Grace and Bill’s relationship does not end there but to see how it all plays out you’ll have to see the film for yourself. We will tell you that there is one part involving cookies inside the pocket of a corpse that is likely to become your new favorite funeral movie scene of all time.
From the Getting Grace website description: “It is an extraordinary story with a lead character who is able to affect a chain of positive events in the lives of all she come in contact with, be they doctors or morticians.”
4. The Acting
Everyone has a different movie or TV show they remember Daniel Roebuck appearing in. His career as a character actor spans three decades. Many recognize him from his roles in the movies like The Fugitive or Final Destination. TV fans might remember his characters on shows such as Lost (who could forget that dynamite stick scene?) and Glee. This documentary fan remembers being moved by Daniel’s performance in Soaked In Bleach, a film about the PI who investigated Kurt Cobain’s death. His range as an actor is pretty incredible and that is very apparent in Getting Grace . Of all the characters in the movie, Bill Jankowski (played by Daniel), undergoes the biggest transformation. We were very moved by Daniel’s honest and raw performance during the movie screening at the NFDA Convention.
The rest of the cast of Getting Grace rounded out by incredible veteran actors like Dana Ashbrook (Ron Christopher) and Diane Wagner (Mary Jankowski) as well as several talented young actors making their film debut.
“We cast all of our lead kids from the Lehigh Valley,” Daniel explains in the making-of documentary below.
Many of the actors were discovered at local theaters and performing art centers in and around Bethlehem, PA where the movie takes place (about 65 miles away from ASD). Madelyn Dundon, the young woman who plays the title character Grace, is truly a revelation. It is hard to believe this is her first starring movie role because she is so real it almost feels like she could walk right out of the film and into your life. While watching, you often have to remind yourself that you are watching a scripted movie instead of a documentary because of the powerful and believable performances of the entire cast.
5. The Buzz
Getting Grace has certainly garnered a great deal of well-deserved attention and praise. At the 2017 Northeast Film Festival, Getting Grace was awarded the Audience Choice Award and was recognized as the Best Feature Film. Daniel Roebuck also scored a Best Director award, while actress Madelyn Dundon took home Best Actress in a Feature Film. The movie was nominated for a total of nine awards at the festival and it is likely that more accolades will follow once the movie hits theatres nationwide later this month.
In the video below, you can see how visibly moved audience members were after watching a sneak peak screening of Getting Grace:
It’s possible that we may be a bit partial to movies that are set in small, quaint Pennsylvania towns. ASD’s office is only about an hour away from Bethlehem, PA where Getting Grace was filmed and we are very familiar with the majestic beauty the Lehigh Valley region of the state offers. Daniel Roebuck and the other film producers truly could not have chosen a better location for their film. In many ways, the setting is like a character in the movie.
“I’ve got this old character who is an old fashioned person. Bethlehem is an old fashioned town that’s kind of reborn, and this guy is reborn too,” Daniel explained in an interview.
A View of Bethlehem, PA
Kofsky, Jared/CC By-SA 3.0
There is something really special and authentic about a movie that is filmed in a real place, not on a Hollywood movie set. In addition to providing the perfect backdrop for the story, Bethlehem was essential to the filming of Getting Grace because so many people from the area contributed to the movie.
In a press release, Daniel explained, “Getting Grace will only be the first of many movies I hope to make here in the Lehigh Valley. We have the most beautiful locations, great actors, great young crew members, and the support of my fellow Pennsylvanians, which is heartwarming for a filmmaker.”
7. Humor and Heart
Getting Grace is a film that asks its audience, ‘what does it mean to be truly alive?’ It does not shy away from important themes or rely on clichés to tell the story. At the same time, it is a movie that understands how intertwined humor and tragedy are and how sometimes in life you want to cry so hard that you end up laughing instead. The film demonstrates how in life, many things are out of your control, but you can’t allow that to stop you from living fully.
“The movie is about faith, but we’re not dictating what type of faith that is, just that there’s something more,” Daniel states in an interview.
With sharp writing, compelling acting and an amazing story, Getting Grace is a movie that is likely to make you bust a gut laughing at some parts and wiping away tears at others. It truly is the perfect blend of humor and heart. We are certain that once you have “gotten Grace”, you won’t soon forget her.
Getting Grace opens nationwide on Friday, March 23rd. Click here to find a theater near you that will be showing the film. Be sure to check back often as new theaters will be added as they are booked.
To learn more, visit GettingGraceTheMovie.com.
About The Author
Jess Fowler is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD's company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess.Fowler@myASD.com