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A Man Named Pearl (2008) - Movie Review

A Man Named Pearl Is Not About A Name

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User Rating 5 Star Rating (1 Review)


A Man Named Pearl (2008) - Movie Review

Pearl Fryer in A Man Named Pearl

Shadow Distribution
From its title, you might expect this documentary to explain why a guy is named Pearl.

Although Pearl’s an unusual name for a fellow, the question doesn't come into play at all in this engaging portrait of gentleman who is extraordinarily unusual--but not because of his name.

Who is A Man Named Pearl?

Mr. Pearl Fryar is a self-taught gardener who has changed the physical look and social outlook of rural Bishopville, his adopted home town in impoverished Lee County, South Carolina.

Mr. Fryar, now in his 60s, is the son of a poor sharecropper. He moved to Bishopville in 1976 to take a job in a canning factory--a job that he's now held for twenty-some years. When Mr. Fryar and his wife, Metra, found a house they liked in what happened to be an all-white neighborhood, their bid to purchase the place was rejected--because, as they were told, their prospective neighbors commented, "black people don't keep up their yards."

The Fryars eventually found and bought a lovely house in another neighborhood, where they're quite happy to date. Shortly after they moved in, Mr. Fryar, who'd never before lived in a house with a garden, set about 'keeping up his yard.' In fact, he made it his priority to win the local gardening club's 'gardener of the month' award. He knew he needed to do something special to win that prize, so one day he picked up his gardening shears and began shaping the bushes and trees on his property into remarkably inventive topiaries--not the cute animals and stylish geometric shapes you see in most topiary gardens, but extraordinary abstract living sculptures that really transformed his three and a half acres into a sort of wonderful adventure land--one that would be worthy of Alice.

Build It And They Will Come

Mr. Fryar began his project before that whispered credo from Field of Dreams, "Build it and they will come," became famous. But that might have been his guiding motto.

Mr. Fryar became almost obsessive in the amount of time and attention he was devoting to his garden. He’d work all day at the factory, then come home and create topiaries late into the night. As he kept improving the garden, locals noticed it and began coming around to see what he was up to and to pay their respects. Then tourists got wind of the magical place, and soon Mr. Fryar’s garden was a noted and much appreciated tourist destination, one that attracted visitors from around the globe. Tourists see the garden for free, but they also pour much needed revenue into Lee County‘s struggling economy.

By the time the film was made, Mr. Fryar had been commissioned to create living sculptures outside his garden, too--most notably at Lee County's art museum, where his is the first living sculpture to be installed.

Written about in global media, Mr. Fryar became a celebrity. But that never diverted one iota of his attention from his life's mission: to constantly maintain and improve his garden, and create exquisitely inventive topiaries in other environs when invited to do so.

When tourists arrive at Mr. Fryar’s garden, he stops whatever he’s doing and shows them around. He especially welcomes busloads of school kids--whom he inspires with his personal story and with words of wisdom about living up to your potential and fulfilling your dreams. Mr. Fryar is a hero, and an artist. And his first name happens to be Pearl.

In Praise of Pearl

Directors Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson’s documentary is a head-over-heels tribute to Mr. Fryar and his garden. The directors use archival footage and family photos to give us the background story. They introduce us to Mr. Fryar's wife and brothers, the neighbors, the local minister, professional horticulturists, diner owner, museum curator and others who praise Mr. Fryar and his talents in head on on camera interviews. We witness Mr. Fryar encouraging school kids. And, we follow him through the garden, day and night, with a ladder under one arm and electric shears in his hand--in fact, he's been compared to Edward Scissorhands (you know, the 1990 Johnny Depp movie)--as he trims, shapes and coaxes his topiaries into top form. He has also meticulously carved into flower-filled shrubs the letters that spell out his heartfelt motto: LOVE, PEACE & GOODWILL.

There’s no controversy in this film. We meet no tragic souls, see neither great conflict nor crime that the filmmakers are investigating and exposing for our benefit. Yet this film does show how one determined man can make a difference. Mr. Fryar single-handedly countered ignorance and bigotry by taking positive, productive and peaceful action. In accomplishing that extraordinary feat, Mr. Fryar is not just a hero, he‘s a miracle. And the garden is terrific, too.

By current cinema standards, A Man Named Pearl may not be a big film, and its subject isn't a big star-studded attention-getting character. But this is a film that will inform and inspire, and quietly amaze you.

Film Details

  • Release Dates: Opens July 18,2008 at Angelika Film Center in NYC. It rolls out in California on July 25, 2008, at the Music Hall in Beverly Hills, One Colorado in Pasadena, Town Center in Encino, Rancho Niguel in Laguna Niguel, and Regal Westpark in Irvine.
  • Run Time: 78 mins.
  • Distributor: Shadow Distribution
  • Rating: G
  • Awards: Heartland Film Festival Crystal Heart Award; Salem Film Festival Audience Award
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