''Greenfingers'' is more ''Full Monty''-/''Chocolat''-flavored hogwash, says Lisa Schwarzbaum

By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated August 01, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Clive Owen, Greenfingers
Credit: Greenfinger: IDP Productions
  • Movie

Why Brit indie flicks are crap in disguise

”Greenfingers,” which opens this weekend in New York and Los Angeles, is about a bunch of colorful losers who rebuild their self-esteem and bond as a community when they do which of the following: A) perform a striptease at a pub, B) win the lottery, C) grow marijuana, D) eat chocolate, E) plant a garden on the grounds of their prison in a verdant corner of England.

The answer, pets, happens to be E, but only on a technicality; there’s precious little difference between ”Greenfingers” and ”The Full Monty,” Waking Ned Devine,” ”Saving Grace,” or ”Chocolat.” At least not when it comes to components and packaging.

This cloying and annoying comedy is written and directed by Brooklyn-born, L.A.-bred Joel Hershman, but it’s based, right down to the last geezer with bad teeth and a working-class accent, on a model of twee foreign charm manufactured especially for export. Plant a story in a pretty English or European village (or, in the case of ”Life Is Beautiful,” a pretty Fascist Italian village), populate the place with colorful characters, add a scene in which tea is served, and, voila, it scarcely matters whether the issue is unemployment or genocide: Everything’s gonna turn out okay! (Two of the convict prisoners in ”Greenfingers” are murderers — but the most lovable and most remorseful killers you’ve ever seen. And you should see their rose bushes!)

This formula, never out of favor, has been in even greater circulation lately, and I suppose I should be used to the chemically sweet taste by now. But something about ”Greenfingers” causes the bile to rise — something about the inane platitudes, the mawkishness, the manicured tableaux one usually sees in wall calendars sold 60 percent off at Barnes & Noble in January. Worse, ”Greenfingers” also includes scenes of horror and despair: the cruelty of watching good actors go slack and mushy. Indeed, as the hunkiest convict with the greenest thumb around, and as a celebrity garden journalist swathed in chiffon, respectively, Clive Owen (”Croupier”) and Helen Mirren (”The Madness of King George”) all but spin around like circus bears. (In so doing, they now ally themselves with such overcooked performers of Miramax presentations past as Judi Dench and Roberto Benigni.)

There are more terrible movies around this summer worth getting exercised about (I still vote for ”America’s Sweethearts” at the top of my list), but don’t you see, that’s the treachery of twee-ness: It tiptoes in so sweetly that an audience starving for pleasant diversion is in danger of confusing decorative landscaping with something really alive. Audiences of summer: Don’t settle for artificial flowers and plastic plots! Rise up, take your trowels, and dig for good stuff at the movies!

What’s the most overrated foreign film?


  • Movie
  • R
  • 91 minutes
  • Joel Hershman