*** Stars
(US 2000)
Rated R

Brenda Blethyn, Craig Ferguson, Martin Clunes, Tchéky Karyo

Directed by Nigel Cole

Writing Credits: Mark Crowdy, Craig Ferguson

Fine Line Features * 94 minutes

Screened at: Clearview Washington Cinemas

I don't know what makes Scots so funny, but they are. Perhaps it's living in a country with a heritage of men wearing skirts without underwear and eating oatmeal stuffed into a pig's stomach and then boiled, but Scots are funny. Billy Connolly knows it. Mike Myers knows it. Before he became Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ewan McGregor knew it. Craig Ferguson knows it, and in SAVING GRACE, which he penned and in which he stars with the inimitable Brenda Blethyn, he's given us the opportunity to know it too.

Blethyn is Grace Trevethyn , the green thumb of one of those quaint Cornish seaside villages where all the houses are made of ancient stones, where the local vicar is a bit of a tippler who watches old Vincent Price movies, where the constable is more than a bit doughty, and where those brooding movies based on Thomas Hardy seem to be always filmed. The razor-edged Joe Queenan describes a certain type of Irish-themed movie as "charming films filled with mirth and wit about wee, lovable, canny Irishfolk." Well, the Scots are not to be outdone, and in this case, Grace's wee, lovable, cheating husband has died unexpectedly after walking out of an airplane (don't ask) and left her on the verge of destitution, with a mountain of debts. Meanwhile, her faithful gardener Matthew (Ferguson), a ne'er do well who tokes up even at his employer's funeral, is nurturing some interesting plants in a hidden garden at the local vicarage. It's a small business he runs with his friend Dr. Bamford (Martin Clunes), but right now his plants are sick, and he calls in Grace's green thumb for help. Grace nurses the sick plants, who turn out to be a variety of cannabis sativa, back to health, and the two of them hatch a plan for cultivating enough of the wicked weed to pay off Grace's debts.

This sort of cannabis comedy really hasn't been done since the Cheech and Chong movies, with the possible exception of the disappointing Billy Bob Thornton/Hank Azaria throwaway HOMEGROWN. Because SAVING GRACE is full of canny, wee,colorful working class Scotsfolk, everyone seems to know about the plan, but even the local constable chooses to look the other way, preferring to focus on salmon poachers. HOMEGROWN never quite knew whether it wanted to be a drama or a comedy, but SAVING GRACE has no such identity crisis. A subplot involving Matthew's relationship with his girlfriend Nicky seems somewhat gratuitous, albeit redeemed by Valerie Edmond's performance as the ever-patient Nicky. Edmond is one of those strong, warm, rangy women, like Gina McKee, who transcends the limited role given her the way McKee transcended the wheelchair-bound friend role in NOTTING HILL. Ferguson is a natural comedic talent and the perfect foil for both Edmond's feet-on-the-ground lobsterwoman and Blethyn's pragmatic matron. Sitting in a bar ranting about "Lobster Lady and Ganja Grace", he's well aware of that Scotch comic magic others have exploited before him.

Tcheky Karyo, otherwise seen this summer as the wisecracking Lafayette clone in THE PATRIOT, is practically unrecognizable here as a purring, scheming drug dealer. Karyo looks alarmingly like a Gallic William Shatner when he's first introduced, and I thanked Ferguson for not having him sing the theme from MAHOGANY, as Shatner does in his latest Priceline.com commercials. But he seems to be having a far better time here than he does in a tricorn hat.

SAVING GRACE is first and foremost Brenda Blethyn's film. A middle-aged actress who seems to miraculously work regularly, she's often tended to be shrill, particularly in last year's LITTLE VOICE. As Grace, Blethyn is a wonder of suppressed emotion. One priceless scene, in which she gazes tenderly at a photograph of her no-good husband, right before flicking cigarette ashes on it and spitting "Bastard!" at it, is emblematic of Blethyn's ability to milk all the emotion in a scene without once going over the top. When Grace finally meets her husband's mistress (Diana Quick of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED), it's painful to watch her face show curiosity, pain, resentment, and the need for a friend, all in a single shot.

If the film has one fault, it's perhpas too wrapped up in its own adorableness. It's wink-wink-nudge-nudge handling of the marijuana subplot, combined with the antics of its colorful working-class milieu, seem at times a tad forced, even if it does offer a fun glimpse of Phyllida Law (Emma Thompson's mom) wearing deely-bobber eyes.. But if SAVING GRACE isn't quite this year's FULL MONTY, it is entertaining, funny, clever, and at least we don't have to worry about anyone turning it into a Broadway show.






SAVING GRACE official site

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Review text copyright © 1999 Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti is prohibited.

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