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In Pearl Fryar's hands, everything grows
on October 22, 2008
Pearl Fryar is an extraordinary man, self-made to be sure. The son of a sharecropper, he seemingly has an innate sense about the way plants grow, blessed with a keen, artistic mind. Combined, these talents have made him almost obsessed about turning his modest, 3-acre property in tiny Bishopville, South Carolina into a work of topiary art. Using cast-off plants from a local greenhouse, he creates and beautiful Eden in his backyard. The film is a paean to his efforts, his vision and his effect on his community.
There's a tendency to see Pearl as a sort of backwoods topiary savant. But listen to him speak to college art classes, and you will hear a articulate man who embodies the artistic impulse and inspires students to leave their sketchbooks behind and reach into their hearts. He may not have gained his knowledge from textbooks, but from Nature itself, the source of the textbooks. The film interviews Pearl, his wife and son, neighbors, his pastor and his many friends. The "best supporting actor" has to go to the head of the local Chamber of Commerce. Though his feet-on-the-desk, salesy manner might remind some of Uncle Kip in "Napoleon Dynamite," he sems truly appreciative of Pearl and his potential to bring a few more touirists into town.
Played as a fiction, "A Man Named Pearl" would have been set as a standard against-all-obstacles story. This film is not so craven as to invent huge villains for Pearl to overcome. The standard demons of lingering racial stratification, self-esteem, community doubt and the clock will have to do. A fine film that shows what human bengs are capable of when given the light, air and space to grow. Kind of like plants.