New Line // 2000 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky (Retired) // March 21st, 2001
"I'm a gardener. These are sick plants."
Bill Forsyth meets Cheech and Chong, in this mildly toasted British comedy.
When Grace Trevethyn's husband dies in a mysterious fall, poor Grace (Brenda Blethyn) shortly discovers her debts are mounting and her house is up for auction. Her Scottish friend Matthew (Craig Ferguson) has a different problem: the plants he is tending out behind the vicarage are not doing so well. Fortunately, Grace is an orchid fancier and an able hand with plants of all sorts. She also recognizes immediately why Matthew is so concerned about this particular weed. Providing the best horticultural TLC since Seymour raised Audrey II, Grace nurses the marijuana until it overflows her greenhouse. Then she and Matthew get an idea...
Every now and then, my wife insists that we watch something "nice." What she means by this is nothing insidious: she has had a tough day and wants a comedy without too much meanness. And a happy ending. I tend to like my comedies more subversive, with a harder edge. But sometimes a "nice" comedy can be quite...um, nice.
Saving Grace is that sort of nice comedy. No one gets particularly angry at each other. Everyone in the town knows that Grace is growing pot, and nobody seems to mind. When Grace discovers that her husband had a mistress in London (Diana Quick), she quickly accepts it, then teams up with Honey to find a willing drug dealer to distribute her product. And of course, the head drug dealer himself (Tchéky Karyo) turns out to be a charming Frenchman (named, quite romantically, Jacques Chevalier), who is immediately taken by Grace's guileless charm.
Even the drug use in the film seems pretty harmless: characters toke up a bit, then giggle a lot. It is all so terribly nice that you might want to take it home to your mother.
All this talk of "niceness" may come across as sarcastic, but it is not meant to be. Saving Grace is a funny movie. It will not stick with you for long, but it is a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half. Its success depends on the charm of its cast and setting. Brenda Blethyn plays Grace with great warmth. This is not a broadly played "dotty old woman" type. Grace is smart and likeable, and willing to roll with whatever comes her way with...well, grace. It is easy to see how even drug dealers are charmed by her. In one quite funny sequence (perhaps the funniest in the film), Grace dresses up in a white, matronly suit that screams "orchid fancier," and walks up and down the seedy streets of London trying to talk to the local drug dealers. And nobody seems to pay her much attention!
Besides Blethyn, the real star of Saving Grace is the scenery. The coast of Cornwall is stunning, with its deep green sea and striking white cliffs. There are plenty of lovely gardens to look at as well. Although clearly targeted to the same audience that enjoyed The Full Monty's brand of clean quasi-subversion, Saving Grace does not share that film's gritty, working-class environment. Although we are told that this little fishing village is struggling, no one seems to look like they are in too much trouble. And the lush, comforting countryside always gives the feeling that everything will be just fine in the end.
Striving hard to be mild and inoffensive, presumably in an effort to capture that crossover audience that flocked to The Full Monty, Saving Grace may strike some as pretty slight entertainment. Many of the recent wave of British class-conflict comedies take their cue from Scottish director Bill Forsyth (Gregory's Girl, Local Hero). Leisurely paced, full of charming but quirky characters, many of these films tend to have the feel of an overlong sitcom episode. In fact, director Nigel Cole, here making his first feature, is known primarily in Britain for television sitcoms. First time screenwriter Mark Crowdy (with help from Craig Ferguson, also known for his work on British television and The Drew Carey Show) hits all the expected notes, including the requisite "safe" ending, where everyone gets comically stoned (don't worry: they give it away in the trailer), but nobody gets hurt and love conquers all. In fact, the whole business is so inoffensive, that any possible political message (a plea for the legal recreational use of marijuana perhaps?) is too muted to be a bother to anyone.
In the spirit of trying to please, New Line provides both widescreen (2.35:1) and full-frame versions of the film on the same disc. Sound is available in both Dolby 5.1 and 2.0. The transfer is crisp and free of defects, and the colors are rich and well-saturated. For a small-budget film, Saving Grace looks quite good. A widescreen trailer and cast and crew filmographies (pulled from the IMDb) are also provided.
Surprisingly, someone at New Line felt that Saving Grace rated two commentary tracks. The first is an actor's commentary with Blethyn, Ferguson, and director Nigel Cole, all recorded separately. There are plenty of personal anecdotes and musings here, not much of which is scene specific. The film's resemblance to early Bill Forsyth, as well as the old Ealing Studios comedies (like The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob) is noted. Cole's belief that filmmaking should be commercial goes a long way toward explaining why the film works so hard to please. A lot of comments are also directed at the setting: it turns out that Cornwall has a long history of "healthy disrespect for the law," including a brisk trade in smuggling once upon a time. It certainly stands to reason why no one in the film seems to mind Grace's little drug operation. Much time is also taken up by the filmmakers' middle-of-the-road approach to the drug issue (lots of denials that the film advocates drugs, but also a few sly questions about the failure of prohibitions in general). The track gets a bit redundant in the last 30 minutes, but overall, the commentary is mildly funny. The second commentary track brings back Ferguson and Cole, with the addition of screenwriter Mark Crowdy. This track is much more scene specific, and Cole and Crowdy are recorded together, allowing for a little interplay. Fortunately, they manage to find plenty of on-set anecdotes and do not repeat much from the first commentary track.
I want to mention for the record that I cannot tell you with any certainty what sort of packaging or case Saving Grace comes in (I am going by the Amazon page for this), since New Line sent this particular screener disc in a CD jewel box without any labeling. I do not know whether they are afraid of a brisk bootlegging market for Saving Grace, but I can assure them that they are perfectly safe.
If I have one major criticism of the film itself, it is that nothing in Saving Grace sticks after it is over. In fact, I only watched the movie the other day, and I am hard-pressed to remember many of the details of it. I have to consult my notes closely to try and remember what happened. I remember the film was cute, and that I laughed a couple of times. But it is all sort of a blur now. And it made me a little hungry.
Hey, wait a minute...
I recommend Saving Grace for a rental when you feel like kicking back with something light. My wife and I both enjoyed it, then we went off to the rest of our lives. Sometimes, you just want a comedy that offers you a little comfort and amusement, and in that regard, Saving Grace delivers. If you enjoy it enough to warrant repeated viewings, by all means pick up a copy. As long as everybody is happy. Oddly, I wonder if New Line has put a little too much effort into their presentation here. But I will not complain: they mean well, and I only wish every studio would put so much effort into their releases.
Brenda Blethyn and the rest of the cast are released, although the court reserves the right to drop by later for a cup of that special "tea." Since no harm seems to have been done by the filmmakers, all further charges are dropped.
Review content copyright © 2001 Mike Pinsky; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Actor's Commentary, featuring Brenda Blethyn, Craig Ferguson, and Nigel Cole
* Writer's Commentary, featuring Craig Ferguson, Mark Crowdy, and Nigel Cole
* Cast and crew filmographies
* Theatrical Trailer