You've got to admit, Saving Grace is a pretty brave movie. While Human Traffic aimed its non-judgemental ecstasy-swallowing subject matter squarely at adult clubbers, the pot-themed Saving Grace is clearly planning to cast its net wider, doubtless attempting to tap a Monty-sized audience. Yet, with one scene involving Brenda Blethyn curiously pursing her lips around a sturdy roach and taking a careful lungful of herb, and another outlining the best way to get the most out of your ganja crop using hydroponic growing methods, you'd think the core audience would be tutting its disapproval before the first reel's finished.
But, unlike most movies which slouch comfortably in that hazy genre known as "the drug comedy", Saving Grace doesn't lose the plot while trying to make it desperately obvious how cool and funny it thinks its subject matter is. There are, admittedly, a few lapses, and it's a shame that the farcical climax resorts to all the usual sitar-accompanied stoner clichés, but there's just enough sobriety in the script to keep things coherent.
Scriptwriter Craig Ferguson (who also stars as dabbler Matthew, Grace's cheeky partner in crime) is as careful to remind the audience why Grace turns to dope dealing as he is with the subject of dope itself, and without Brit stalwart Brenda Blethyn in the title role, his job would have been much harder. Blethyn has long proved that she's able to stitch the comic and the tragic together so expertly that you can't see the seams, as exemplified in Mike Leigh's Secrets And Lies. So whether she's despairing at the realisation that her dead husband was a crook who's left her in the shit, or stumbling hilariously around the streets of Notting Hill in her Sunday best trying to flog her special groceries, you'll hardly lament her getting the most screentime
There's the usual host of offbeat, comedy supports - - which no self-respecting Britcom should be with-out - including Martin Clunes as a toke-crazy village doctor and hairy comic/musician Bill Bailey as a Dungeons & Dragons-playing small-time dealer. Then there's Ferguson himself as Matthew, the nice guy who has to balance his need to become more responsible with his desire to help Grace strike gold. This is a far more down-to-earth part for Ferguson than his last, the flamboyant gay hairdresser in The Big Tease, and he copes well with the restrictions in terms of going for the obvious laughs.
Saving Grace is no laff-a-minute gag-athon, and it would have benefitted from a few less self-consciously moody shots of the craggy Cornish coastline and a less far-fetched ending. But, thanks to a measured turn from green-fingered Blethyn, this is a healthy, well-pruned, homegrown comedy.
Writer/producer Craig Ferguson hardly makes a hash of things with this enjoyable cross-pollination of Ealing-style humour with Cheech & Chong antics. It all unravels at the end slightly, but Blethyn keeps the movie on the straight and narrow.