Running for Grace

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Running for Grace Movie Poster Image
Sweet, slow-moving romance deals with 1920s racism.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 110 minutes

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Love knows no boundaries. Kindness and care enrich the giver as much as the recipient. Plotlines about racism illustrate how harmful it can be, are sympathetic to its victims. Themes also include courage, perseverance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jo is mistreated, abused due to his mixed-race heritage. Dr. Lawrence is a kindly man who loves Jo just as he is; Jo is a heroic character who behaves nobly. Several other characters are rather flat villains, and Grace doesn't have much to do in her role. A man tells a boy that the prettier a girl is, the crazier she is. 


Characters die in non-gory but sometimes violent ways; their dead bodies can be seen (they look mostly uninjured). A character takes poison after he's financially ruined and begs to be allowed to die (he doesn't); another character calls his actions an "honorable suicide." A man slaps a young boy who steals a dumpling; another man knocks a man out so he can treat the second man's ailing wife. A young boy loses his mother, is seen mourning next to her body. 


Two characters kiss briefly, exchange longing glances. A man wants to marry a young woman for her money, while her family hopes he's rich and can support them. 


Cursing is infrequent and includes "hell," "damn," and "bastard." Lots of language concerning race and class: "half-breed," "haole," "Orientals," "Jap," "country doctor," "backwoods country hick," "Nip-lovers."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A main character smokes cigarettes frequently. Another smokes cigars and drives a car filled with liquor bottles, presumably drinking while he drives; out of the car, he sneaks drinks from a flask. One character is referred to as "guzzling gin"; she also drinks from a flask. A teen is given alcohol by an adult and then challenges his authority figure.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Running for Grace is a drama set in 1920s Hawaii about a wrong-side-of-the-tracks boy who romances a rich girl. The movie includes lots of period-accurate racism and classism, though its sympathies are clearly with the downtrodden. A boy is slapped and despised for his biracial heritage, and he's called things like "half-breed." His (white) guardian is called things like a "country doctor" and "backwoods country hick." People of color are also called "Jap," "Nip," and "Orientals," and nonnative Hawaiians are called "haoles." Race also figures in the movie's most upsetting scene: A Japanese man attempts to poison himself after financial ruin, something that a character calls an "honorable suicide." Other characters die suddenly and violently; viewers see their relatives mourning them and their (non-gory) dead bodies. Characters smoke cigarettes and drink; one character drinks while driving and gives alcohol to a teen. Cursing is infrequent and mild ("damn," "hell," "bastard"), and sexual content is limited to significant looks and a single kiss. The movie offers clear messages about the evils of racism, as well as the transcendent power of love and the importance of courage, perseverance, kindness, and care.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 15-year-old Written bytooprecious February 3, 2019

Amazing film that everyone should watch!

This film has all the aspects of a great movie. Bad guys, good guys, heroes, princesses and princes. Love it! A wholesome family film. It uplifts the spirit... Continue reading
Adult Written bytaylorkj81 August 26, 2018

Heart warming and heart breaking

It was a really good movie, but we watched it with too young of kids. There was some violence I did not expect. But very sweet movie!
Teen, 13 years old Written bySamantharootgroves January 4, 2019

Stunning film

It really is a great film. I think it's great for the family but I would say it's more suitable for 10 and up as it deos include some violence and gor... Continue reading

What's the story?

Set in 1920s Hawaii, RUNNING FOR GRACE tells the story of Jo (Ryan Potter), an orphaned biracial boy who's despised by the people in the village where he lives. But Jo's fortunes change when he's adopted by a kindly village doctor (Matt Dillon) who puts Jo to work running his medicines all over the mountains and plantation fields where his patients live and work. When circumstance brings Jo together with Grace (Olivia Ritchie), the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, a forbidden attraction blossoms. Unfortunately, Grace's father is interested in marrying her off to Dr. Reyes (Jim Caviezel), all the better to infuse cash into his ailing coffers. Can Grace and Jo find a way to be together despite their many obstacles? 

Is it any good?

Sweet but slow-moving and clichéd, this tale of forbidden love in plantation-era Hawaii isn't without appealing qualities -- chiefly, a strong cast and positively gorgeous shots of the island setting. The main problem is the weakness of the love story holding Running for Grace together. Yes, Grace and Jo are both young and attractive. It's easy to see why they're interested in each other. But although they exchange plenty of loaded glances, they've barely spoken 10 words to each other by the time they embrace for the hackneyed happy-ending kiss that's supposedly so moving that the whole cast bursts into tears. 

The rest of the plot is no less subtle: Every twist and character reveal is telegraphed ages in advance. It's clear from our first sight of Dr. Reyes that he's a baddie who's Up to Something; he might as well be twiddling his mustache when he casts his gimlet eye on Grace. (Who, by the way, is given very little to do besides sit on a bed gazing at Jo with her blonde hair angelically lit.) It's hard to root against a story about a despised outsider who triumphs against all odds through heroic actions, and this movie does have its heart in the right place. But, like Grace's underwritten role, it's beautiful -- and insubstantial. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Running for Grace's setting. Why were race and class such divisive issues in Hawaii's plantation era? What role did foreigners play in displacing native Hawaiians from their land and in creating competition between immigrants and indigenous people? 

  • How does Jo show courage and perseverance in making a life in a place where he's discriminated against? Why are these important character strengths

  • Why are forbidden romances a popular subject for movies? What's more dramatic about two characters who have difficulty being together than two who have an uncomplicated relationship? Is it realistic?

  • Why does Jo call Koji's attempt to end his own life an "honorable suicide"? What does that mean in the context of suicide in Japan? Should suicide be viewed as honorable?

Movie details

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