One to grow on

Buds of humor season menopausal mourning in Saving Grace

?Opens Aug. 18

Take a desperate situation, compound it with shock, humiliation and indignant anger, temper it with indomitable resourcefulness, and what do you get? What else but a light-hearted film that approaches both ends of the spectrum of British comedy: "Upstairs-Downstairs'" witty, tongue-in-cheek humor and the nonsensical fun of Monty Python. Director Nigel Cole's film, Saving Grace, has its moments of forced slapstick on the one hand and the sublime surrealism of a Beatles' tune on the other. Somewhere in the middle, Cole creates less contrived moments of laughable incongruity, pulling out all the stops to give us a thorough, good laugh. In the small English seaside town of Port Liac, everyone knows everyone else's business except, of course, their own. A garden-variety homemaker, Grace (Brenda Blethyn, nominated by the Los Angeles Film Critics' Association for Best Actress for Secrets & Lies) learns of her late husband's infidelity which, as it turns out, is the least of her problems. It seems the old bastard went and died broke as well. Post-menopausal and without any marketable skills, she has only the gift of her green thumb. As debtors load up her furniture and dispossession of property notices overflow the trash bins, Grace has only a short period of time to come up with more than 300,000 English pounds. When Michael (Craig Ferguson of "The Drew Carey Show"), her loyal Scottish gardener, asks Grace to nurse his wilted marijuana plants back to health, she begins to think outside of the box. Goodbye, rare orchids; hello, cannabis sattiva! (Let it be known that Director Nigel Cole insists that "No brain cells were harmed during the making of this film," and real marijuana was not used.)

As the plants thrive and reality encroaches, Grace manages to keep the debtors at bay, the seemingly clueless bobby from discovering her ganja greenhouse and her mask of equanimity from cracking. Hardly a character to be pitied, though, Grace goes head-to-head with a London drug lord (Tcheky Karyo), who is drawn in by her toughness and touched by her vulnerability. In response to Karyo's sexual advances, middle-aged Blethyn manages to recall such screen sirens as Kim Novak and Vivienne Leigh, for whom romantic surrender is akin to a moral crime.

Thankfully, Nigel Cole spends less time than one would think on Grace's mourning of her late husband and the process of coming to terms with his infidelity. Instead, Cole focuses more on Nikki (Diana Quick), Michael's girlfriend, and her dilemma. Reluctant to tell Michael of her pregnancy while the good-natured Scot is involved in such shady dealings, Nikki manages to communicate the desperation and frustration that both she and Grace suppress.

Still somehow managing to be a "feel-good movie," Saving Grace offers a whimsical take on a fairly dreadful state of affairs — the "mature" woman's answer to The Full Monty. Although the plot may seem outlandish and unbelievable to those who have never witnessed the revolutionary effect that the post-menopausal years can have on a woman's character, Saving Grace explores that pivotal time in a life when there is nothing left to lose and precious little that surprises. Nigel Cole's film is a humorous and compassionate reflection on the choices available to women in their later years. If only dispossessed women everywhere would put a torch to all that they believe themselves to have lost, there would be far less monotony in the world, fewer martyrs consigned to a life of boredom and a lot less needling and meddling from the "girls" in the rare orchid society.