May 19, 2023 / VVS Films
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, Quintessa Swindell, Eduardo Losan, Esai Morales, Rick Cosnett, Victoria Hill, Amy Le
Directed By: Paul Schrader
Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) is the meticulous horticulturist of Gracewood Gardens. He is as much devoted to tending the grounds of this beautiful and historic estate, as he is to pandering to his employer, the wealthy dowager Mrs. Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver).
When Mrs. Haverhill demands that he take on her wayward and troubled great-niece Maya (Quintessa Swindell) as a new apprentice, chaos enters Narvel’s spartan existence, unlocking dark secrets from a buried violent past that threaten them all.
Written By Darren
Rating 2.5 out of 5
Master Gardener benefits greatly from the strong lead performances of Joel Edgerton, Quintessa Swindell and Sigourney Weaver despite Paul Schrader’s screenplay failing to find its footing and create the compelling character study that it strives for.
No matter what film you are watching, every story has potential to be great. Some films instantly find all the ingredients to tie everything together, bringing the story and characters to life in a compelling manner that captures the audiences’ attention. Other films struggle and even though they may have some of the necessary elements to make for an intriguing watch, fail to pull it off as a whole. And while I was patient with Master Gardener in the film’s first half which had potential, the film ultimately never came together and resulted in a very well acted but ultimately frustrating character study.
Narvel Roth is a horticulturist, employed by Norma Haverhill to tend the grounds of her beautiful estate. It’s a meticulous job, but there is a quiet serenity that Roth admires in nourishing the plant life. However, when Norma takes in her troubled niece Maya, she tasks Narvel to take Maya under his guise and teach her the skills to become a horticulturist, his life is thrown into disarray as the sudden change dredges up secrets from his dark past.
With a lead cast of Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver, it is no surprise that the film has very strong performances. Edgerton’s quiet yet purposeful portrayal of Roth grounds the film, giving it the introspective angle that Schrader aims for with his screenplay. Through the use of flashbacks, Schrader gives us the answers as to Narvel’s past that combined with the dynamic contrast between the two versions of the character from Edgerton’s performance, creates an interesting character for the film to focus on. Weaver as always is magnificent, commanding your attention whenever she is on screen as Norma. There is an elegance to Norma, but beneath it is an entitlement and old fashioned view that Weaver captures perfectly that makes her character a complex character that you are bound to have mixed feelings on. Rounding out the main cast is Quintessa Swindell as Maya, and Swindell is wonderful in the role. She captures a youthful inquisitiveness and tenderness, while also balancing her character’s demons. While the role was originally intended for Zendaya, Swindell soars and proves herself a young actress to watch over the coming years.
Where the film falls apart is the story. It’s a character study of a man with a troubled past, a cliche we have seen explored many times. The first half of the film has intrigue to it, but the second act feels rushed and it loses the focus of the character’s and focuses on the story’s conflicts, which are frankly less interesting than the characters themselves. This story goes nowhere really, resulting in a drawn out second half that does not measure up to Scrahder’s previous films. It is a case of “seen it before and better”, and combined with a shocking reveal in the final minutes which is bound to sit uneasy with many viewers (such as myself), prevents the film from being a rewarding performance which is upsetting as the cast is so dedicated to making to bringing their characters to life on screen.
Despite the outstanding performances of Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver and Quintessa Swindell who are absolutely captivating from start to finish, the performances are not able to compensate for a lacking screenplay that lacks a meanwhile purpose to fill the film’s runtime, ultimately making Master Gardener a misguided character study that fails to match the talents of its cast.