Published Aug 02, 2000I curse the day "The Full Monty" became a blockbuster hit. Ever since then, endearing British comedies have been finding their way to these shores with dollar signs in their eyes, sucking up to North American audiences with formulaic tales of lovable eccentrics trying to make it big. The new British comedy "Saving Grace" arrives with the pedigree of having won the Audience Award at Sundance, and I can only imagine the people who voted for it were acting on some kind of Pavlovian response ("It's the next Waking Ned Devine!'").
The cutesy premise involves a recently widowed middle-aged woman named Grace (the ever-shrill Brenda Blethyn) who discovers that, despite her late husband's apparent wealth, she has been left deeply in debt. The one employee who is still left kicking around her estate is her gardener, Matthew (Craig Ferguson of "The Big Tease" and "The Drew Carey Show"), whose extra-curricular hemp-growing gives Grace an idea of how to save herself from financial ruin: she turns her greenhouse into a hydroponics lab yielding enough marijuana buds to make Cheech and Chong seem like models of restraint.
"Saving Grace" takes place in a fishing village on the Cornish Coast, and there are lots of colourful locals to round out the dotty British "quaintness" of the film. There's a bleary-eyed doctor (Martin Clunes) who enjoys smoking more than just the occasional fatty, and the stodgy, old-school constable who's always about an inch away from discovering the town's new drug trade (Grace's high-yield lab lights up like a supernova every night), and then there's the two gossiping old ladies who run the local corner-shop, and yes, they eventually end up inadvertently getting high as a kite on Grace's "product." These are the kind of knee-jerk pot jokes that will have you rolling your eyes even before they occur. Writing this stuff must have been about as taxing as falling off a log (and it's about as funny).
Craig Ferguson takes half of the responsibility for the screenplay along with Mark Crowdy, and the last act is particularly clumsy and unwieldy. They strain way too hard to happily wrap up every stray plot thread, and the blissed-out, deus ex machina finale (a staid garden party gets blanketed by a dense cloud of pot smoke), occurs with tiresome inevitability. Maybe they should have just pumped the cannabis fumes into the theatre itself. That's probably what they did at Sundance.