Cinema Botanica No. 2: Green Card

There’s only one reason this wisp of a movie, Green Card, was screened again at the Cinema Botanica.


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And that reason is the star of the movie, who literally oozes charm and charisma.

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For me, the star is indisputably the greenhouse. They should have just named the movie Greenhouse and been done with it.
If asked to choose a movie based on a brilliantly orchestrated car chase scene or the interiors of a 19th century apartment with attached greenhouse, I know which one I’d prefer.

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This movie has stuck with me since its release in 1990 for that simple reason alone, a spectacular greenhouse attached to a rooftop apartment in New York City.
These are the sort of dreams movies should peddle more often.

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The only scene enlivened by people and not the greenhouse that I remembered was Andie MacDowell dreamily reciting to the building’s co-op board how she’d restore the greenhouse and tend to its plants if they’d just give her the chance. Oh, the poor neglected cordylines and begonias! The board’s insistence that only a married couple can buy the apartment starts the immigration/green card deception rolling and chugging down its rickety tracks. Hard to imagine a time when a light-hearted movie involving immigration issues seemed like a good idea, but this was long ago, in that innocent era of the late 1980s. (Irony intended.)

When a well-intentioned movie fails, made by talented people, it’s a fascinating conundrum. Written, directed, and produced by Peter Weir, so there’s no one else to blame. Weir, director of such movies as Witness, The Mosquito Coast, The Year of Living Dangerously, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Truman Show. This man can make a watchable movie. My theory is that Weir came up with a high-concept movie premise, attempting to make a Faustian bargain by helming a Hollywood-style romantic comedy, then had too much subtlety as an artist to deliver it. He blurred when he should have sharpened, whispered when he should have shouted. Weir just couldn’t be the hack this rom-com movie needed. I really think Weir was more interested in the greenhouse too.


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There’s confusion in the way characters are drawn. Girl horticulturalist is uptight and not in touch with the juicy things in life and needs to be opened up by a man so basic he’s almost feral. You’re kidding me, right? Someone with their hands in the soil has lost the pulse of the natural world?

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Are we supposed to see her as a defeminized, unsocialized wallflower because she likes plants and runs around in cargo pants and army boots? If so, that perception is canceled out by how she’s done up the apartment, all vintage and shabby chic. Andie MacDowell just can’t get anything across with this role, but you can follow the plot by watching her hair. When her hair is constrained in braids or buns, she’s uptight. When it flows, she’s softening toward our anti-hero Depardieu. Seriously. Follow the hair.

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But Gerard Depardieu is even more perplexing. Think of a sculptor beginning a massive heroic statue, just slapping clay around into a rough outline, then leaving the studio briefly for a quick smoke. The enormous lumpy statue creaks, animates, then walks out of the studio in search of the nearest bar. This is Depardieu. An oak of a man. The body is all out of scale. Massive, rounded shoulders above narrow hips that seem unequal to the task of holding up his torso, he lumbers and lurches through the movie, wearing a dark, baggy Frankenstinian jacket. And along with the greenhouse, he’s the best thing about the movie. Amazingly elemental. And when he gives the little speech about leaving school at the age of 12 to begin a life of petty crime, something in his delivery had me looking up his bio the next day. That little speech is indeed a description of Depardieu’s early life. But this movie is not worthy of his talents. Check out The Return of Martin Guerre to see what he can really do.

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In the army boots photo above, there’s architectural salvage being made use of in the public garden MacDowell is working on with her group, the Green Guerrillas. Weir seems genuinely interested in the subject and brings in this level of detail.

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I usually end up doing a mental remake after watching an uneven movie such as Green Card. Mine would star French actor Vincent Cassel and Ellen Page of Juno and Inception. We only need a photo of Cassel.

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Maybe this time they’d both be horticulturalists, but the conflict would have Page growing edibles, while Cassel is interested in green walls. How will their relationship survive such a mind/body schism? That’s as far as I got, but I do know there’d definitely be lots more screen time for the greenhouse.

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14 Responses to Cinema Botanica No. 2: Green Card

  1. OH MY GOD! Can I come watch movies at your house? Seriously. I think I saw this movie, back when it came out, like in the theatre…but now I wish I had seen it with you. I’ll bring the wine and chocolate, you just tell me when to show up.

  2. hoover boo says:

    Hilarious.

    There’s always Miyazaki, who knows and animates (and appreciates) the difference between Camellia japonica and C. sasanqua. Just watched the ’09 BBC version of ‘Emma’, which has a wonderful topiary garden, but falls down in a scene filled with late 20th century roses. Ah well, at least there were no explosions.

  3. David says:

    I love this movie! In fact, I own it. My favorite scene? When she finally gets the sprinkler system on in the conservatory and the plants are dripping wet and finally happy. Her inside/outside roof garden is fabulous as well. I like this Cinema Botanica idea. Will you make a complete list on a sidebar or reference page when done? I don’t want to miss one. Happy Growing. 🙂 David/ Tropical Texana

  4. Denise says:

    Loree, I wish I could sit in the Cinema Botanica with my blog pals!
    Hoov, I only know Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke — I’ll have to recheck for camellia ID. He’s wonderful.
    David, that’s a great idea to list them on the side bar. When I get a few more, I’ll do that. It is a sweet movie.

  5. Kathy says:

    How did I miss this film ? On the list now for a winter viewing. I fear that my favorite plant related movie is still ‘Saving Grace’ ,in spite of the schmaltzy ending.

  6. chuck b. says:

    For years, I’ve been haunted by a Burt Lancaster movie from 1968 called The Swimmer, based on a short story by John Cheever, about a wealthy east coast executive who wakes up in the grip of an existential crisis. It’s a warm summer day and he’s a few miles from home. He endeavors to get there by taking a dip in every swimming pool between where he wakes up and where he lives, having meaningful personal encounters along the way. So, the mise-en-scène is a succession of Connecticut country gardens and the beautiful forested landscape between each of them. The gardens are a little dated of course, but each one is interesting in its own way. I saw the movie just before I started gardening, and I would love to see it again. Unforch, it’s been available for several years.

  7. Denise says:

    Chuck, you’re not the only one haunted by The Swimmer. It’s a favorite of my husband’s too, but I’ve never sat through it. Now you’ve got me intrigued. I’ve been finding some amazing stuff at the local library, stuff even Netflix doesn’t carry. People sell copies of hard-to-find movies on Ebay too.

  8. Kathy says:

    The Swimmer can be had on Netflix. Along with other obscurities..I have ‘Women in Love’ here today ..

  9. Theresa says:

    This movie is the one that haunted me – since I first saw it so many years ago. I have rented it many times just to revisit that greenhouse.
    I was so excited when I saw that you had written about it! I too wish we had all seen it together – We would have to stop it every 10 minutes to discuss!

    Awesome screen shots, BTW

  10. Laura says:

    I almost became a horticulturist because of this movie… or rather, because of that apartment. 😉

  11. Val says:

    If this film had been done several years later Macdowell would have had the acting chops for it. See her in “Groundhog Day”-she was much better at the dramatic then, although she still looked just somewhat peeved when she was supposed to be really angry. My daughter dislikes Greencard based mostly on the “…and you walk around touching MY things…do you? Do you?!” scene, which had the wrong emphasis on the words and terrible timing and no feeling…however, I don’t agree that she’s a bad actress. Depardieu, Bebe Neuwirth, the parents and the apartment stold all of her scenes. I also had a feeling that Depardieu was speaking from real life experience, so it didn’t shock me when I did some research and found that it was true. This is part of what makes a great actor…

  12. Denise says:

    All true. And Macdowell wasn’t too shabby in Sex Lies & Videotape either.

  13. Nicolas says:

    I rewatch this movie at least every two months, mainly because of the greenhouse…I’m still young so I hope by the time I’m in my thirties I’ll have a greenhouse similar to that in the film…so, so beautiful, especially the magnificient tree ferns, the fountain , that roof and the overall feeling of an exotic,faraway but at the same time very intimate place ..I guess only people who really love plants know what I want to say…I like the story too and I think the actors aren’t bad at all. And I especially like Andie Macdowell, I think she is a very intense actress. Please go and watch a more mature her in another movie featuring a greenhouse( though much less impressive than the one in Green Card): Fleur pour Harrison( I think the English name might be Harrison’s Flowers, if I’m not mistaken). The film really brought tears to my eyes, very powerful…I do hope we’ll get to see more wonderful greenhouses in future films. Another reccomendations: Cheri( which I also rewatch only for the beautiful conservatory), The passion of Ayn Rand( although only a few transient shots) and Brideshead Revisited(if you have the patience)..

  14. Denise says:

    Thank you for your suggestions, Nicolas. I loved reading your impressions of this movie. Best of luck finding your greenhouse.

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