This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: May 30, 2008 - Though I suppose it made headlines at the time, I don't recall hearing or reading anything about the 1972 death of Barbara Baekeland, an American socialite who married (and divorced) the grandson of the inventor of Bakelite and was murdered by her 25-year-old son, Tony. (But I should point out that until a few years ago I didn't even know what Bakelite was.)
"Savage Grace" tells the story of this stormy mother-son relationship, and although the film appears to take more than a few liberties with the historical record, director Tom Kalin has his mind on things other than making a more-lurid-than-usual Lifetime movie-of-the-week. The film belongs to the increasing number of social and psychological dramas recasting the recent past with a gay subtext (nearly all of which seem to be produced by Christine Vachon and star Julianne Moore).
Though it must ultimately end in the events of 1972, Kalin is more interested in the quarter-century leading up to it, the story of a young man growing up in glamorous surroundings but in a confusing and dysfunctional family. It's an often evocative drama (and partly inspired, I suspect, by a certain controversial Bertolucci film of the late '70s), with - no surprise here - an excellent performance by Moore.
"Savage Grace" is at its best when it re-creates the ambience of a leisurely upper-class life circa 1968 (albeit with a few sordid details from the unhappy Baekeland marriage), and it's ultimately a disappointment when the film has to get into the inevitable tabloid business at the end. The final act seems forced, out of keeping with most of what precedes it. Instead of providing an explanation of how the characters reached this sorry climax, it leaves you wondering what the film has missed in making such an abrupt shift of tone.
"Savage Grace" has yet to arrive in local art houses, but Charter customers can watch the film now through its On Demand service, which offers some IFC films for home viewing before or while they're playing in theaters.
You can watch the trailer here .