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Greenfingers (PG)
Fireworks Pictures and Samuel Goldwyn Films
Official Site
Director: Joel Hershman
Producers: Travis Swords, Daniel J Victor, Trudie Styler
Written by: Joel Hershman
Cast: Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, David Kelley, Natasha Little

Rating: out of 5

GREENFINGERS-British for what we Americans call a green thumb-is a satisfying, smart, funny, oddball romantic comedy about British criminals rehabilitated through competitive gardening. It stars Clive Owen of CROUPIER and fine British veteran Helen Mirren ("Prime Suspect"), both in outstanding performances. Inspired by a newspaper article recounting true gardening exploits of British prisoners, this most British of films was written and directed by American Joel Hershman with great affection, comedic deftness, and fine use of English locations, actors, and crew. Part farce, part fractured fable, part satire, part love story, GREENFINGERS is England in the sunshine-the England of great buildings, great gardens, and, yes, great silliness.

Although main character Colin Briggs (Owens) neither wants nor expects to ever leave prison, he is selected for the special experimental "open prison" at Edgefield (actually the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music in Surrey), which is more a small English village, really, than a prison, brimming with English characters we can readily recognize and care about. Colin's new roommate Fergus, a bearded, and bereted old Merlin, gives the discouraged young man seeds which explode in spring into unexpectedly beautiful double violets, renewing Colin's sense of wonder. The possibility of unexpected beauty eventually infects everyone in the crew. The prison gardeners gain the attention of media garden maven Georgina Woodhouse (Mirren), who champions them straight into the most famous garden show of all, the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

The mood of the film is sunny, bright, colorful, and engaging; and the look is rich and abundant with flowers against vibrant dark green foliage, great architecture, landscape, costumes. There's probably more sun in this movie than most Brits see in a year. The production design is excellent, centering on three grandly visual, absolutely English locations-the Menuhin School, the private estate of Norney Grange, and the actual Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The cinematography is luscious, making ample use of great exteriors in support of a crisply told, masterfully paced story worth believing in and easy to enjoy.

Clive Owen is excellent in the lead, his angular good looks softened by dreaming and his piercing eyes focused far away. He's easy to pull for as our unlikely hero rediscovering life, and he does sensitive and soulful as well as he did existential angst in CROUPIER. Helen Mirren, best known, especially in the U.S., for numerous fine dramatic performances, is a riot as the over-the-top, flamboyant, publicity-hogging, outdoorsy-in-my-pearls, queen of the gardeners. Many of the film's best one-liners are Mirren's, and she works the character with flair and vogue-a little sweet, a little naughty, a lot selfish, narrow and broadminded by turns, judgmental and forgiving. David Kelley is fine as mentor Fergus Wilks; Natasha Little is excellent and believable as Mirren's late blossoming daughter and Owen's love interest. The supporting cast is uniformly strong, particularly the gardeners and the warden, a man whose smile is more scary than his charges.

Now, this is not deathless art, but it is full of laughs and smiles, and it's very satisfying. GREENFINGERS isn't a kind of movie we've never seen; however, the individuality of the actor's performances, the sureness of the direction and pacing, the script's excellent lines and comic moments, give this story a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction rather than predictability-we want these outcomes from this kind of romantic fable.

If you're looking for hard-edges, auteur sensiblities, black comedy, multi-layered Anglophile regionalism, gritty crime drama, working-class despair or camaraderie in language so true to place that Americans need subtitles, this isn't the British film for you. Remember, this is an American writer/director's sunny British comedy. But if you're looking for a good date or couple movie, planning a movie night with other couples or your family, and looking for good fun in a well acted, funny romantic comedy, this one's worth full price. Even if you don't fit these groups, this is at least worth a bargain matinee. Heck, if you're just looking for one movie that doesn't disappoint in a summer of many disappointments, full price is fine for this classy comedy.

Scott Whitebird

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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