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Movies
'Saving Grace'

Jolly England: Eccentrics in 'Saving Grace' sail by reality

Friday, September 01, 2000

By ,Ron Weiskind Post-Gazette Movie Editor

A likable Britcom of a movie that is too clever for its own good, "Saving Grace" falls short of its ambition to become this year's version of "The Full Monty" or "Waking Ned Devine."

 
   
'Saving Grace'


RATING: R, for drug content and language.

STARRING: Brenda Blethyn, Craig Ferguson.

DIRECTOR: Nigel Cole.

WEB SITE: www.saving-grace
-movie.com

CRITIC'S CALL: 2 1/2 stars.

 
 

Those movies delighted us with their unlikely premises. In the first, a group of unemployed steelworkers transform themselves into exotic dancers. In the second, two elderly Irishmen in a tiny seaside village concoct a plot to defraud the government in order to win a giant lottery jackpot.

But the hurt beneath the laughs gave extra poignance to both films. A man's death sets off the prevarications in "Ned Devine," leading to a funny yet touching scene in which another man ends up attending his own funeral. The men in "The Full Monty" try to reverse the symbolic emasculation suffered in the loss of their jobs and their roles as heads of the household. One finds himself impotent, another tries to commit suicide.

"Saving Grace" starts off in the right direction. The newly widowed Grace Trevethen (Brenda Blethyn) learns that her husband has left her nothing but a mountain of bills and a crushing mortgage on their stately home near a small Cornish village. If she doesn't find a way to raise a lot of money in a very little time, she could lose everything.

But she keeps her dignity, reserving her sorrow for people like her gardener, Matthew (Craig Ferguson, who also helped write and produce the film), whom she can no longer afford to employ. The most affecting scene in the movie finds Grace, who has not yet learned of her impending downfall, going into town and encountering her friends and neighbors, who somehow do know and display an embarrassed compassion for her that she can't fathom.

Matthew inspires the plan that could save Grace -- or sink her even deeper. He's been doing a bit of free-lance plant work, it seems, attempting to grow marijuana in the vicar's garden. Grace, gifted with a green thumb, figures that perhaps she can cultivate enough cannabis to pay off her debts.

In other words, "Saving Grace" tries to give a modern twist to the time-honored tradition of British film comedy in which English eccentrics find themselves in unusual situations.

The problem is that marijuana makes anything seem funny. The gags are just too easy. Who couldn't get a laugh by having two dotty old shopkeeper sisters get stoned and roll giggling on the floor, consuming munchies right off the shelves? You say the cops, the crooks and the cons are all converging on Grace's house at the worst possible time? Just literally blow smoke in their faces and see what happens.

But, paradoxically, director Nigel Cole also errs by trying too hard. Except for Grace, all of his characters display broadly whimsical traits. Matthew is an uninhibited klutz. The vicar (Leslie Phillips) likes horror movies. The doctor (Martin Clunes) is a comical pothead. The town constable (Ken Campbell) busies himself with trying to catch fish poachers who may or may not be real.

Only two characters show restraint: Nicky (Valerie Edmond), Matthew's level-headed fisherwoman lover, and Grace, which comes as a relief considering some of Blethyn's more hysterical acting turns.

But then the filmmakers send her into some ridiculous situations, like when she heads into the dregs on London in search of a buyer for her illegal stash. She may not dress to the nines but she's at least at sixes, which is too much by fives when it comes to drawing attention to herself. And even the eventual buyer (Tcheky Karyo), for all his menacing appearances, turns out to be as realistic as a hemp hallucination.

At almost every turn, the movie pulls away from any kind of real pain or danger and opts instead for lighthearted farce that it resolves too easily. The ending, while clever and unexpected, also seems like a bit of a cheat in which the filmmakers painted themselves into a corner and escaped by drawing a trap door.

"Saving Grace," while often fun, is always fluff.



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