Saturday, April 17, 2010
Saving Grace (1999) demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the eccentric British comedy genre as exemplified by The Full Monty, Calendar Girls, Brassed Off, On A Clear Day and the original Death at a Funeral. It is usually about someone who is in need--perhaps of a change, perhaps money. In order to make that change, they must step outside the bounds of British propriety. They usually do so in secret, or part secret. Often this is done with the knowledge and complicity of their odd little village. (These films rarely take place in a city--the ancestor film is Whisky Galore! [a.k.a. Tight Little Island] set in remote Scotland. The only city film I can think of is Passport to Pimlico, but in that case a London neighborhood broke away to become its own little village.)
The important thing is that, although people grow and develop, order is also restored. This is true of comedy in general. Walter Kerr pointed out in his great book Tragedy and Comedy that tragedy has a definitive ending--usually death--but comedy does not. We often end comedies on the marriage altar because it is a convenient stopping point, but comedy belies an ending. Therefore, we have the satisfying that convention that, after a great period of turmoil and disorientation, order is restored. Perhaps things are changed for the better (for example, people are no longer engaged to the wrong person in a classic farce), but the entire order is not seriously disturbed.
The other part of the form is that The Scheme Works. The lads in Full Monty do indeed strip off and make a lot of money, as do the gals in Calendar Girls. The hero does swim the channel and the brass band wins the competition. If there is change, it is the inevitable change of history--the mines close, the money runs out, but life goes on.
In Saving Grace, not only does the scheme to save the heroine's house by selling 20 kilos of pot which she has raised using her excellent gardening skills fail, but the heroine's problems are resolved by marrying an international drug dealer and gangster. What??? Our adorable Brenda Blethyn married to a French-Turkish gangster? That's how she pays off the bank. And, yes, the idea of the entire town, especially the garden-party ladies, getting a contact high when the marijuana is burned is cute in theory, but it's ghastly to see in actuality. (This might have been obviated by hiring actresses instead of the obviously amateurish local extras prancing about demonstrating their ideas of a marijuana high.)
Similarly, the scene in which Brenda tries out her own product is such a hopeless cliche that the film begins to sink there and then.
A pity, because Craig Ferguson wrote some decent scenes for his fellow actors for the first hour, and he is a reasonably effective screen presence. But it is hard to figure out why anyone thought the last third of this film would work.
Maybe they were high.