'A Man Named Pearl" is calm, relaxing and soothingly picturesque. But then again, should you expect any less from a film about a topiary gardener, a man who has spent most of his life shaping visions of splendor and beauty out of what's usually out your window?
Directed by Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson, "Pearl" is a brief but effective documentary on Pearl Fryar, a 60-something man who you can honestly say takes great pride and care in his yard. In Bishopville, S.C., his yard has became something of a prized possession for the city, He has mowed, clipped, trimmed and garden-weaseled his acreage into a work of public art. People from all around, from high school kids to Japanese tourists, have visited and strolled through his garden, unanimously in agreement that it's a place of harmonious, awe-inspiring wonder.
And, to think, it started more than 30 years ago when Fryar and his wife moved into an all-white neighborhood and were notified of the neighborhood's apprehension to welcome a homeowner of color because, simply, "Black people don't keep up their yards." He ended up winning Yard of the Month (the first African-American to do so) -- and, from the 'round-the-clock way he tends to his property, it looks as if he's going for Yard of the Millennium.
As you may have guessed, "Pearl" is a story about a man whose simple motivations to keep his land beautiful (and whose self-taught talents as a topiary artist have mystified even the most experienced art historian) elevated him to the level of inspirational marvel. From the way the townspeople tell it, his garden is what keeps the town beaming with pride. Without it, the city would be another po-dunk hamlet. But, thanks to Fryar, it's a city that matters.
While "Pearl" can get a bit repetitive (in case you don't get it the first dozen-or-so times, Fryar is the son of a sharecropper who put the small town of Bishopville on the map!), the charm and grace of the movie ultimately overshadow it. With Fred Story's jazz score keeping things smooth and somber, Galloway and Pierson make you long to be in that garden. They make you long to be there as Fryar proudly rides his lawn mower, like an African-American Hank Hill, around his beloved topiary masterpiece. And it's still a work in progress.