Published Aug 01, 2001It may be based on a true story, but that doesn't mean it's not pabulum. "Greenfingers" is a mediocre comedy steeped like a tea bag in quaintness and likable grubbiness. It's a British film by cast and location, but it was written and directed by an American, Joel Hershman ("Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me"), which doesn't make it any better or worse than similar British pabulum like "Saving Grace".
It's about a group of prison inmates (a few murderers among them, but that all gets absorbed into the sweet indifference of the film) who occupy a liberal, open-minded facility called Edgefield where they end up taking a serious interest in gardening. This leads to charming encounters between the prisoners and high society as they get a commission to install a garden for some hoity-toity clients (Helen Mirren plays an upper crust gardening expert), and eventually their botanical prowess earns them a spot at the prestigious Hampton Court gardening competition.
"Greenfingers" stars Clive Owen, whose understated charisma is considerable, but not considerable enough to compensate for the paint-by-numbers storytelling. Even though the script plays out like the spawn of a Syd Field screenwriting workshop, it ignores one of the cardinal rules of storytelling: "Though shalt not make it easy on your characters." There are lots of obstacles placed in front of these affable gardeners, but they all dissolve themselves without a struggle. Hershman has created such a safe and cozy story for himself, he hardly wants to mar it with anything like dramatic tension.
If there's one aspect of this film that telegraphs its lowest common denominator appeal, it would be the soundtrack. Sting and Elton John are featured prominently, and so is Tears For Fears. When the prisoners begin work on their first garden, there's a montage of the planting process as the soundtrack blares, "Sowing the Seeds of Love". I was tempted to paraphrase Bart Simpson at that point: "I didn't think it was possible, but this actually both sucks and blows."