It sometimes seems as if entire casts of successful English comedies have wandered onto this set: a naked body on the run, a jug-eared mailman on a bicycle, gossipy old ladies.
If eccentric British comedies for the moment seem to be stuck like copies spilling from a photocopier, they are usually populated by good actors who can make us laugh, and sometimes that's enough. Unfortunately, though, the Brits rely too often on the formula of dotty old people doing the unexpected. In Saving Grace it's a widow who decides to repay her newly dead husband's gigantic debts by using her talents as a master gardener in hydroponics, with a major assist from her gardener.
Brenda Blethyn is hugely talented and knowingly subtle. If a film that stars this able woman is labored, something is wrong with the script. If it is also derivative, then it is doomed. Actors can't make good comedy without good words.
Grace Trevethen (Ms. Blethyn) teams up with her beloved young gardener, Matthew (Craig Ferguson), to rescue what they can of the film. Matthew is growing marijuana plants in the backyard of the vicarage-in the shade, of course, out of sight. Grace, the village's finest gardener, sees in a flash that she can use Matthew's seedlings to start a cash crop that can save her house from the creditors.
Consider all the pluses: A Cornish fishing village filmed against a landscape of staggering, stark beauty. Unmarred by trees or scrub or brush, empty fields roll to the sea. Matthew is kind and sensitive in a dense, but dependable, way. The girl he loves is Nicky (Valerie Edmond), a lovely young woman with a big heart and a taproot of common sense that tells her Matthew's scheme will come to no good end. Matthew and Nicky, without an ounce of condescension, create a couple we know can live happily ever after in this village-if they don't end up in jail.
The movie opens beautifully as Nicky strides from her fishing boat, dressing for a funeral as she goes, with Matthew's black funeral suit slung over her shoulder. Matthew is digging Mr. Trevethen's grave. The promise of light comedy pulses. As Grace and Matthew wreak miracles in her greenhouse, a stock cast of loony British villagers falls, in one silly way or another, under the spell of the marijuana they unwittingly inhale or drink as they prance around the periphery of the growing operation.
Our laughs, and there are some, are supposed to come from the steady repetition of normally proper old people giggling and rolling on the ground. Once, maybe. Even twice. But there is not a backbone strong enough to hold this movie up. As it rushes toward a Keystone Cops finale, even Brenda Blethyn looks silly. Director Nigel Cole must take the blame for that.
It sometimes seems as if entire casts of successful English comedies have wandered onto this set: a naked body on the run, a jug-eared mailman on a bicycle, gossipy old ladies. But this time the collective chuckles are just not enough to get this train back on track.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 499
Studio : Fine Line
Rating : R
Running time : 1h33m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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