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SAVING GRACE(director: Nigel Cole; screenwriters: Craig Ferguson/Mark Crowdy/based on a story by Crowdy; cinematographer: John de Borman; editor: Alan Strachan; cast: Brenda Blethyn (Grace Trevethyn), Craig Ferguson (Matthew), Martin Clunes (Dr. Bamford), Tcheky Karyo (Jacques), Jamie Foreman (China), Bill Bailey (Vince, low-level drug dealer), Valerie Edmond (Nicky), Tristan Sturrock (Harvey), Clive Merrison (Quentin), Leslie Phillips (Vicar), Diana Quick (Honey), Phyllida Law (Margaret), Linda Kerr Scott (Diana), Ken Campbell (Sgt. Alfred); Runtime: 93; Fine Line Features; 2000-UK)
“Too absurd to consider as anything but sitcom fluff.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Another formula ‘feel good’ quirky comedy from the British Isles much like “Waking Ned Devine” and a host of other popular, middle-brow, low budget movies, that turned a nifty profit off a thin storyline. It is filled with likable establishment types living in a quaint town: a tolerant vicar and policeman, plenty of ordinary citizen eccentrics, and locals who stick together through thick and thin.

“Grace’s” strength lies in its rational theme that smoking pot should be legalized since it is even less dangerous than drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes. The film is tolerable until after its first hour. It then falls completely apart becoming just too absurd to consider as anything but sitcom fluff.

But its long overdue message of advocating decriminalization for certain drugs is on target and allows the film to, at least, be viewed as containing a pertinent message. Its message is especially appropriate nowadays considering the ‘War on Drugs’ is supposedly to be escalated into Colombia. The drug war has been a total failure so far and with little hope of it being won by law enforcement methods, it has so far just ended up causing America’s jails to be overcrowded with mostly non-violent drug prisoners and offers zero hope of curtailing America’s drug usage and drug supply. Billions of dollars have just been allocated by Congress to get officially involved in the Colombian Civil War, by backing a corrupt government (Remember Vietnam!) with the idea that ‘military might’ could stop the cocaine and marijuana harvests in that country. Everything about this proposed action smacks of another Vietnam-like failure.

The film’s theme of showing squares getting into the illegal weed business and finding it acceptable by the public, something that should have been accepted some 40 years ago, is a theme long overdue for public acceptance; but one that is better received late than never. There has to be some common sense in distinguishing what drugs should be legalized and how to educate the public on this, rather than making it a police matter.

The film opens in a quaint Cornish seaside village at the funeral of the husband of a middle-aged woman, Grace (Brenda Blethyn), whose husband fell out of an airplane, evidently committing suicide. The widow soon finds out her husband was a bigger bastard than she imagined. He left her with a stack of enormous bills and put up without her knowledge their comfortable 300 year old house as collateral for a failed business venture — taking out a second mortgage. The widow finds herself bankrupt and with no marketable skills to pay back her husband’s enormous debts and prevent her from losing the house and becoming homeless. She also knows that he was having an affair with a sophisticated woman from London, Honey (Quick). What makes the affair doubly unsatisfying is that when conferring with Honey, she finds out that he was a tiger with her in bed but refrained from having sex with her.

Even though the locals try to help the bankrupt widow out as best they can, the creditors swoop down on her like vultures. Her gardener and handyman, Matthew (Ferguson), decides to stay on with her, despite his last check bouncing. Since she is an expert amateur horticulturist, he convinces her to help him revive his hemp plants which he grows for private use. The two soon see this as a possibly big business opportunity, as Grace works miracles with the plants which turn out to be high-quality stuff. For Grace, this is a way to save her house and get her out of debt; for the Scotsman, Matthew, it offers a chance for him to continue to live in this beautiful village and earn enough money to marry his fisherman girlfriend Nicky (Valerie).

The locals all let the illegal activities go on undisturbed: the police sergeant (Campbell) pretends not to notice what the bright lights in Grace’s greenhouse are for, the friendly vicar (Phillips) counsels about the wisdom of not taking action over something that you can’t control, and the doctor (Clunes) enjoys smoking the weed for recreation.

The story becomes incredulous when Grace decides to go to London and score with a big-time drug dealer instead of having Matthew go, because she finds out Nicky is pregnant and doesn’t want Matthew to end up in jail. It is interesting to note that no one thinks smoking grass is bad for you, only that one can go to jail.

The scene with Grace on Portobello Road in the Notting Hill section of London was nonsensical; she tries to find a drug dealer while dressed out of place in a white dress and hat one would wear to a tea party in Cornwall, but not on the streets of Notting Hill looking to make a drug deal. From here on the film descended into a huge black hole, whereby it never recovered its dignity.

It makes the audience ‘feel good’ that the sweet old lady succeeded. This ‘square’ film leaves one with the impression that smoking and growing pot is silly, but should be tolerated as something naughty middle-aged widows screwed by their terrible former husbands must do in order not to remain destitute. Ummm!


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”