Andrea Gronvall, a longtime film critic for the Reader, died after an illness on September 4 in her apartment in Margate Park. She was 67. As best as I can tell from our online archives, she filed her first review in 2004, of the documentary Presence, a portrait of the Swedish photographer Georg Oddner. Her last, of the new Keira Knightley espionage thriller Official Secrets, was in last week’s paper. In between, she filed several dozen long reviews and even more capsules, ranging from Hollywood blockbusters to art-house documentaries, and everything in between.
Prior to her work as a critic, Gronvall worked for 17 years as a producer for At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert (and later Ebert and Richard Roeper). Like Siskel and Ebert, she had a deep love of movies and thorough knowledge of movie history. She had particular expertise in French movies and in animated films, but she wasn’t a snob. In the time we worked together, I don’t recall her ever panning anything outright; she was a close observer of the films she wrote about and was always able to find a redeeming factor. About last year’s weepie Life Itself, which she gave two stars, she wrote, “I’ve seen Life Itself twice already, and I may even watch it a third time someday, not because it’s perfect—it isn’t—but because just as with my own life, I like to revisit the high points.”
Gronvall’s own personal interests ranged far beyond movies. Among the subjects of our writer-editor correspondence: 19th-century romanticism, Jewish religious practices, the Holocaust, the philosophy of Hannah Arendt, how to work with performers with developmental differences. She was a deeply thoughtful and serious person. The only time that correspondence ever turned angry was when she went off on a rant against the dangers of relying solely on information provided by the Internet Movie Database and Wikipedia. (Characteristically, she later apologized if her vehemence had lapsed into discourtesy.)
I’ll miss her for her writing and for her intelligence. But most of all, I will miss her kindness and her generosity of spirit. As a colleague, she was always courteous and considerate, always made her deadlines, and always had a word of praise or encouragement. We only met in person once, but I considered her a friend. I’m sad that we won’t be able to continue that friendship over coffee as we were planning to, and I’m sad that I won’t be able to read any more of her work. I’m also sad for the larger Chicago film community. It just lost one of its greatest champions. v
An open gathering for sharing memories of Andrea will be held on Sunday, September 15, from 1 to 2 PM in the Mendelson Gallery at Temple Sholom, 3480 N. Lake Shore Dr. Contributions in Andrea’s memory may be sent to Temple Sholom, 3480 N. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, 60657, where she was a longtime devoted member.
An archive of Andrea’s work for the Reader is here.