Vance Wood risks losing his health, his family, and his dreams playing a brutal yet beautiful dream.
In the striving suburbs of New Zealand in the 1970s, grace was never mentioned. A stranger visiting those places for the first time could have been forgiven for thinking that amongst the optimism and ambition of the new subdivisions any kind of elegance or blessing was entirely absent. It was worse in the winter. Then rugby (and its female equivalent, netball) ruled many families with their prosaic routines. But out of the footy grind, Vance Wood invents poetry.
Much has been written of the fascism of New Zealand football clubs in the years before 1981. But Vance’s epiphany isn’t revolutionary. He manages to travel to a new place through the myths and rituals of the old. In this way Grace is less an indictment of that world than an exploration of its possibilities. Rugby was expressed in the most fundamental physical and linguistic terms, yet Vance finds there is a link between the real and a rich otherworld.
Sid Going is an unlikely looking hero/saint. He appeared 40 when he was still in his early 20s. He spoke haltingly. His clothes never seemed comfortable. But he was mercurial and daring on the footballs fields of the world for most of the 1970s.
Almost as much as some of us loved him, Sid was reviled. He didn’t always do what the coach told him. He often took the ball and ran himself. His critics said he was selfish, dangerous to the team. They said he played too much like a Maori. It was a torrid debate. For both sides, the same fact confirmed Sid’s demonic or saintly nature: he was a Mormon and wouldn’t play on Sundays.
The film is set in the 1970’s because the fight over the Springbok tour of 1981 changed footy forever. The game became a conduit for bile and viciousness in the culture it had dominated for so long. Then economic revolution after 1984 changed everything else. Unable to command an audience as an act of faith, rugby became a successful entertainment.
While the the film’s context is important, much more significant is the moment it creates in Vance’s young life. A moment recognisable to anyone, anywhere who has ever grown up.