Saving Grace (R)
In the tradition of The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine comes Saving Grace, another charming, fluffy and refreshingly politically incorrect British appetizer of a film.
Winner of the 2000 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award, Saving Grace feels a bit more hollow than either of its predecessors, succeeding largely on the strength of quirky Brit Brenda Blethyn's fine performance as Grace, a quiet, upper-crust Cornwall villager whose late husband has left her 300,000 pounds in debt and in danger of losing her beloved house.
Blethyn, who was widely heralded for her performance as the warbly, nervous mother in the Mike Leigh film Secrets and Lies, lends gravity to Grace who, in an act of desperation, turns her greenhouse into a full-scale marijuana growing operation in order to pay the bills. There are some fun, silly moments when Grace cuts loose for the first time in years, but Blethyn grounds the character with her depiction of the largely unspoken sorrow of a loveless marriage and the pain of her late husband's infidelity and financial irresponsibility. Grace is a woman who wakes up in her mid-fifties to discover the life she has previously lead has been, for the most part, a dream.
Groundskeeper Matthew (Craig Ferguson), a goofy, good-natured pothead, turns Grace on to the idea of scoring a wad of cash with a bumper hemp crop, and together they empty her greenhouse -- formerly home to the village's finest orchid hybrids -- and start their crop under timed grow lights which set off an otherworldly glow each night in the darkness of the remote village. Predictably, most of the nosy villagers know what's going on, but the operation is hush-hush nonetheless.
The film destabilizes slightly when Grace ventures to London to find a dealer for her crop, but an intriguing romantic interest results. In the end, everybody gets high and we even get a glimpse of another withered old naked guy (remember the nude bicycle scene in Waking Ned Devine?) tripping around the garden completely intoxicated.
Cinematographer John de Borman's visual lovemaking to the Cornish coast is practically reason enough to see Saving Grace -- sweeping shots of the emerald green hills, the rocky cliffs, the roaring sea, the quaint village and Grace's lovely estate easily fill -- and enrich -- the film's slight, low-key stature and 94-minute duration.
The supporting cast is winning in the way of all these films -- the actors succeed in making their characters feel like real people. Notable in Saving Grace is Valerie Edmond as Nicky, the pregnant girlfriend of Matthew (also wonderfully played by Ferguson) who disapproves of his new avocation as a drug manufacturer but continues to love him anyway. Edmond is absolutely believable as a slop-slinging lobster fisher who pulls on tall rubber boots every morning, then sheds them each evening for a round at the local pub.
Gentle, whimsical, and generally lightweight, Saving Grace, in spite of its subject matter is as inoffensive as a Cheers episode. There's no groping sex, no sleazy banter, no irrelevant gun play, no disgusting references to various bodily fluids, no flatulence -- none of the cheap tricks that titillate starving audiences in the age of the gross-out comedy. And director Nigel Cole's unique take on the hypocrisy of the war on drugs is, at once, disarming and comfortably palatable.
Not an earthshaker, but certainly a worthy hour and a half at the movies.