Screening at SXSW 2023, Raging Grace is the feature film debut for writer-director Paris Zarcilla and stars Max Eigenmann, Leanne Best, and David Hayman. Set in the UK, Joy is an undocumented Filipina immigrant who is struggling to do the best she can for her daughter when she secures the perfect job. Despite the job being off the books at the behest of her employer, Joy stands to make more money than she ever thought and will hopefully be able to settle into a life in the UK without the fear of deportation.
The job in question? Taking care of an extremely wealthy but terminal old man in a cavernous and nearly abandoned old house. The new position pays well and guarantees a roof over their heads but very soon, Joy and her daughter Grace start to realize everything is not as it seems. Over the course of the film, the audience sees that something is festering beneath the surface, threatening Joy’s future and her life with her daughter.
I come from housekeepers and farmers, and in the final act, Joy delivers a monologue that my grandmother and mother could have made. It hits like a ton of bricks but it allows for catharsis at the same time. Over the course of the film, Joy accepts everything done to her. She holds it in and allows it to taint how her daughter sees her. But the film is billed as a “coming-of-age” story, and the way it all crescendos is worth every minute.
It’s the slow build-up in the face of overt racism and microaggressions that makes it all feel real, and that makes me remember the first time I saw my mom break under that pressure. It’s a recognizable immigrant story that manages to cut across some lines while still being extremely specific to the Filipino experience by exploring the way that colonialism impacted the country and its people. Tackling fetishization and the way in which the “love” of a culture and people is easily warped by those wielding power, Raging Grace is salient in nearly every way.
That said, slight pacing issues do take away from the narrative development with small plot holes left in the story by the time the credits roll. However, that critique doesn’t impact the film that greatly, due in large part to Max Eigenmann’s performance as Joy. In her sadness, her loneliness, and her rage, she moves you…constantly. It’s clear that this story and the role of Joy are very personal and intimate in nature.
Raging Grace captures the nuances of racism and the way colonialism has impacted people from across generations. Zarcilla is able to capture the helplessness of being stuck with no way out and the only ally you see turning out to be worse than the first person who hurt you. Without spoiling any surprises, Raging Grace is a testament to resiliency and delivers the comeuppance that you are rooting for from the very beginning of the film. While the film manages to enrage, it also delivers catharsis.
Raging Grace screened as a part of the SXSW 2023 Film and Television line-up.
- Rating - 8/108/10
Raging Grace manages to capture the nuances of racism and the way colonialism has impacted people from across generations. Zarcilla is able to capture the helplessness of being stuck with no way out and the only ally you see turning out to be worse than the first person who hurt you.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.