The Austin Chronicle

Saving Grace

Rated R, 93 min. Directed by Nigel Cole. Starring Brenda Blethyn, Craig Ferguson, Martin Clunes, Tcheky Karyo, Valerie Edmond, Phyllida Law, Linda Kerr Scott.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 1, 2000

The premise of this movie might be better described as Amazing Grace rather than Saving Grace since the plot of this contemporary British comedy belongs more to the realm of fairy tale than to believable farce. Cast in the mold of recent hits like The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine, Saving Grace is a real audience pleaser (it won the Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival). But the film's easygoing laughs about its unlikely but lovable marijuana criminals carries things too far and relies too heavily on humor borne of the dotty and eccentric characters who always populate these quaint and tolerant English villages that only seem to exist in the movies. If followed to its logical conclusion, this movie would end with jail terms rather than a happily ever-after finale, although to berate the point threatens to make oneself sound like a mirthless creep. The story belongs to Brenda Blethyn (Secrets & Lies, Little Voice), who stars as Grace Trevethen, a recently widowed Cornish matron whose husband committed suicide and left his wife to discover the insurmountable financial debt he secretly left behind. Grace, who is well-known for her green thumb, and her about-to-be-laid-off gardener Matthew (Ferguson, who also co-wrote the screenplay and is better-known to U.S. audiences for his TV work on The Drew Carey Show) hatch a plan to use the greenhouse on her heavily mortgaged country manor estate for the hydroponic growth of a proven cash crop -- marijuana. Everyone in the village, of course, turns a blind eye, and Grace also escapes serious trouble when she dons a white pantsuit and heads to London to sell her wares. It's a fish-out-of-water comedy and a bit of a drama about a woman whose circumstances force her to learn to cope for herself. Uniformly good performances allow the film to ingratiate itself, although your level of involvement will likely depend on the degree to which you find humor in watching country squares react to their first hits of wacky weed. It results in overly prolonged bouts of silliness, nakedness, and apparent IQ loss. Cannabis comedy has come a long way from the days of Cheech and Chong. Saving Grace makes the genre safe for those who don't inhale.

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