New Jersey’s Great Pop Culture Moments Vol.55: Nearing Grace

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Scott Sommer’s 1979 novel Nearing’s Grace may have had more impact back then, especially to a young teen male audience. I would wager that more male teens read books back then, before being inundated with computers, video games, and porn in the mid ’90s. The 2005 film adaptation Nearing Grace is set in South Orange, NJ, so as Dr. Evil would say, I’m going to “…throw it a frickin’ bone.” All you need to know about this film lies in that cheesy, overused, but awfully accurate movie description, “a coming of age tale.”

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It’s 1978 and Henry Nearing is a teen coping with the loss of his mother. Since his father and brother are drinking and abusing drugs to cope with her death, the only shoulder he has to lean on is the girl next door. Ashley Johnson, the actress who made me want to plant the remote control into my skull as little Chrissy Seaver on Growing Pains, plays Merna, a girl who adores Henry. She’s his loyal friend and has always been there for him, but Henry’s got a boner for Grace (Jordana Brewster of Fast and the Furious) who he thinks is hot, mysterious, and exciting, but is basically a total skank. Look, we all make the mistake of falling for the wrong person, Henry was just thinking with his dick.

The story was not compelling which translated to a bland film. It’s hard to blame director Rick Rosenthal (Halloween II, Halloween Resurrection, Smallville) since the film seems to be faithful to the novel. Even though I’ve never read the book, the entire film gave me a sense that it had to have been based off a book. I wanted desperately for the film to be one of those cool undiscovered gems, but it lacked a certain edge that other films and TV shows set in the ’70s have. For instance Almost Famous, Dazed and Confused, and even That ’70s Show, all evoked the vibe of that era. I’m not the only one who felt this way. In an October 16th 2006 review, Morgan-23 on IMDB “…didn’t feel one way or another about it.”

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Nearing Grace does offer a heartwrenching performance by David Morse (Disturbia) as Henry’s father, and the kid from BIG, David Moscow, seemed to be channeling Jeff Spicoli as Henry’s stoner brother. The real highlight of the film is the fantastic soundtrack. Unfortunately it doesn’t rescue this film from the depths of downerville. You’ll hear The Kinks, The Ramones, Tommy James and The Shondells, and The Velvet Underground among other bands.

For a teen drama set in the late ’70s Nearing Grace is everything it sets out to be. The only thing it’s not is fun. I would recommend this one only if you were an angsty teen back in the late ’70s OR Jordana Brewster gives you rumblings in your utility belt. And for those interested in the New Jersey aspect of the film, it’s very slight and lacks authenticity because it was actually filmed in Portland, Oregon.

Heather Lagenkamp and her “Attractive Batcycle Outfit”

I can’t say I truly appreciated Heather Lagenkamp’s beauty until I got a little bit older, or at least until I went to the theater to see New Nightmare. If I could refrain from my evil amount of superficiality then I can continue with this post. …ahhhh…there….now I can continue.

Heather Lagenkamp made a big impact in the ‘80s with her role as Nancy in The Nightmare on Elm Street series. Shortly thereafter she competed for the spotlight with a few other hotties on Just the Ten of Us. Although, for my money it was almost impossible for Heather to ever surpass the greatness of Jamie Luner. Heather played Marie, the nerdy, book smart girl perfectly. Heather may as well be crowned queen of geekdom because not only did she play one masterfully but she’s also an icon to millions of horror geeks like me across the globe.

It was always a welcome surprise to see her pop up in guest spots on Growing Pains and films like Shocker. In those roles it was easy for her to shine since she didn’t have any mass competition. Unfortunately, in 1995, Heather made the mistake of participating in The Demolitionist starring one of my all time favorite chicks NICOLE EGGERT! You can’t go up against Jaime from Charles in Charge and expect to win especially when she wasn‘t Jaime, she was THE DEMOLITIONIST!

Possibly the occasion when Heather was most triumphant wasn’t for her role in a film. Heather appeared in a catalog from Warner Brothers advertising all new Batman memorabilia. I remember the pamphlet style catalog was given out at the theater on opening night of Batman in June of 1989. I was amazed at how cool the bat-merch was that they were going to release. Finally some really cool, high quality Batman stuff would be released! I wanted everything in the mini catalog. I begged my mother for each item as I stared at the catalog over and over all the time. The photos and the presentation of the catalog was well done.

After second guessing myself twice (is that possible? Lol) I finally decided that I was right the first time and it WAS Heather Lagenkamp, fondly gazing at Batman, riding a bike, and modeling that “attractive batcycle outfit.” The outfit, since it was the ‘80s, happened to be made of “comfortable body hugging nylon, lycra, spandex” I must admit, I wound up getting that little tingly familiar feeling like when I saw her in that guest spot on Growing Pains. It was like “Wow, is that Heather Lagenkamp?” At that point, the only way anyone knew who I was talking about was if I said, you know Nancy from Nightmare on Elm Street and Dream Warriors? Was she THAT hard up for work that she appeared in a Batman collectible catalog? I guess throwing her in this Batman ad was intended to skyrocket her to fame, leaving her character Marie Lubbock behind in her meteor dust. The caption reads “Heather Lagenkamp (from TV’s Just the Ten of Us) & Gotham City residents will rest easy tonight knowing Batman is around.