Grow Your Own
Review by Jack Foley
LOOSELY based on a real-life allotment in Liverpool, where traumatised Balkan Civil War refugees were given plots of land as therapy, Richard Laxton’s Grown Your Own is designed as a gentle comedy that’s rooted in slightly more serious social issues.
But by attempting to bite off more than it can chew the film digs itself into a hole from which there’s no escape.
The film begins as immigrant Chinese mute-father Kung Sang (Benedict Wong) is given an allotment plot as a last attempt at helping him reconnect with the world and support his children after his traumatic journey.
But their presence – along with that of several other immigrant families – creates tension against the existing English gardeners who object to their land being handed out to foreigners.
To spice things up still further, a mobile phone company is seeking to place a mast on the site and is seeking the support of the strict allotment committee chairman (played by Philip Jackson) to do so.
Part of the problem with Grow Your Own is that it plants too many seeds, many of which wilt away after promising beginnings.
But it’s also uneven in terms of tone, flitting uneasily between hard-hitting social commentary and sitcom-style romantic interludes.
As a result, it reduces too many characters to stereotype and undermines any attempts to be taken seriously.
Omid Djalili fares particularly badly as an illegal immigrant whose back story is never fully explained, despite the director’s attempts to extend him some sympathy. But Wong also drifts in and out of proceedings and seems to be acting in a far more serious movie.
Jackson’s dictatorial allotment ruler is hopelessly one dimensional and a bad guy just waiting for a fall, while the love interest between Eddie Marsan and Olivia Colman is obvious and relies too heavily on standard British rom-com formula.
Only the cranky Henry (Allan Williams) rises above the cliche as a defiantly non-conformist free spirit who offers the film’s only really decent character.
In the final analysis, however, Grow Your Own simply isn’t funny enough to be classed as a comedy, or strong enough to be taken really seriously even though it touches on plenty of relevant contemporary issues.
It’s onerous use of metaphor and imagery merely adds to the feeling that this is a film about gardening and life’s rich tapestry that could do with some of its own pruning.
Running time: 95mins