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[whitespace] Brenda Blethyn, Craig Ferguson
Best of Buds: Grace (Brenda Blethyn) and Matthew (Craig Ferguson) grow a little pot to make ends meet in 'Saving Grace.'

Lost Cause

Even Brenda Blethyn can't rescue wispy 'Saving Grace'

By Richard von Busack

THE BRITISH IMPORT Saving Grace is a coastal comedy, like Bill Forsyth's Local Hero, only without the structural steel of Burt Lancaster in it. Brenda Blethyn plays Grace, a lady of the manor in a fishing village on the coast of Cornwall. She's a widow when we meet her; her husband killed himself after losing their fortune.

Since she's about to be evicted for her late husband's debts, Grace starts up a home-based business: hydroponic pot farming. Her righthand man is her former gardener, Matthew (Craig Ferguson). They work out of Grace's solarium, which consumes enough electricity to light up the night sky like an aurora borealis. As the two grow banana-sized buds, the bill collectors grow more insistent.

The provincial pair concoct a scheme to sell a large quantity of marijuana. Eventually, they're hooked up with a scary but basically well-mannered London drug dealer (Tchéky Karyo). The film peters out, rather than ends, with the same finale as the equally ephemeral Half-Baked. That forgettable film's silliness is topped here with an awards ceremony that wastes any dignity Saving Grace has built up at that point.

Matthew is played by the soft, even smarmy, comedian Craig Ferguson, from TV's The Drew Carey Show; he was also seen as a Scottish hairdresser in his very bad directorial debut, The Big Tease. What Saving Grace has going for it, then, is Blethyn, and Blethyn alone.

She's an actress who ought to be legendary for the slaggy, haphazard mothers she has played. She is excellent in the mediocre Little Voice and unforgettable in Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies. Unfortunately, you only get a brief glimmer here of the kind of acting she's done previously. In one moment, looking at a framed photo of her late husband, Grace considers doing violence to it as it trembles in her hand. She satisfies herself with flicking a cigarette ash at the photo, and even this slighter gesture is hesitant--it goes against her breeding. Later, she meets her husband's mistress, and as they laugh together over a bottle of wine, she's suddenly wounded to the heart by a misunderstanding. She pauses, feeling the edge of her front tooth as she tries to control herself.

The rest of director Nigel Cole's film isn't worthy of Blethyn. Saving Grace is a silly-dame comedy. Perhaps Patricia Routledge, the fearsome Hyacinth Bucket on TV's Keeping Up Appearances, could have brought up enough broadness to kick-start this wispy comedy.

The photography lags as well. Bad weather is a fact of life of the British coast, but luminescent color can come out in the overcast sometimes. Not here, though, in this bloodless-looking movie. Saving Grace has too few saving graces in it. The film sells you anemia disguised as refinement.


Saving Grace (R; 92 min.), directed by Nigel Cole, written by Mark Crowdy and Craig Ferguson, photographed by John de Borman and starring Brenda Blethyn, Craig Ferguson and Martin Clunes, opens Friday at the Los Gatos Theater and at the Palo Alto Square.

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From the August 3-9, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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