Review: Master Gardener – The seeds of love and hate
Directed by Paul Schrader
Starring Joel Edgerton, Quintessa Swindell, Sigourney Weaver
Master Gardener is the third and final in a loose thematic trilogy that writer-director Paul Schrader has done, with First Reformed and The Card Counter before it. They all feature moody and quiet male protagonists who live minimally and keep a diary, who hide a dark past from their now complacent living, but try to uphold a strong moral stance and form a close relationship with a younger woman who’s introduced into their lives.
Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) is a knowledgeable horticulturalist working at the estate of the wealthy and widowed Mrs Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver) on the various gardens of flowers. She needs a favour from him: to be a tutor of all things gardening for her grandniece Maya (Quintessa Swindell). Although Roth agrees, issues with both their pasts begin to arise and cause issues for the garden and for each other.
If you’re familiar with this trilogy and its formula, the film will likely be more predictable than the previous two. But the filmmaking of this has such incredible grace that it sometimes doesn’t even matter how predictable the character’s journey is because of how hypnotically alluring the film is. It never gets too loud; it’s full of quiet conversations; there’s a slowness to how the relationship unfolds; and on top of all that, you learn a little about flowers along the way.
What makes it work is both Schrader’s writing and his direction. He’s a seasoned filmmaker who won’t waste a word in his dialogue, and he makes the mild-mannered, carefully constructed conversations with characters engaging and sometimes amusing. He’s directed the entire film in this style, giving it an enticing quality that brings us in, wanting to know more.
Master Gardener certainly comes across as the least dramatic or intense of this trilogy. There are no large-scale secrets or conspiracies on a societal or governmental level. Instead, it’s just normal people trying to move forward and overcome their pasts. As Schrader’s done plenty of times before, he has constructed a story on secrets and morality, and although it’s not the best in his filmography, it’s still a worthy film full of enough quirks to make it work.