Within the first few minutes of the documentary A Man Named Pearl, two things become evident about the titular subject of the film. One, the self-taught topiary artist Pearl Fryar could go mano-y-mano with Edward Scissorhands in a battle to create the most fanciful garden ever and come out the undisputed winner. Two, Mr. Fryar has, without a doubt, the deepest voice known to man. It’s deeper than Barry White, the Atlantic Ocean, and the entire field of quantum mechanics.
And while it may be shallow to make note of Fryar’s cavernous voice, the sound itself is a major reason this big-screen profile of the Bishopville, S.C., topiary artist is appealing. There is a serene gravity to his speech, the kind we imagine that only the most enlightened among us possess. And maybe that’s because Fryar has truly found a sense of inner peace doing the thing he loves the most.
However, as appealing as Fryar is and as awe-inspiring as his creations are — and make no doubt they are fantastical figures that will cause you to ooh and ahh — the film is never able to rise to the level of a great documentary film. Quite simply, directors and producers Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson have crafted a story in which there is absolutely no conflict. Yes, there is some mention that the white folks in Bishopville kept Fryar from purchasing a home in a white neighborhood, but any discussion of racial conflict past or present is brief.
But this lack of conflict goes beyond anything to do with race relations. Based on what we know, Fryar’s life has been charmed, which is quite wonderful for him as a human being, but for us as moviegoers, well, it doesn’t quite make for compelling filmmaking. There is no physical disability to overcome, no threats faced, no family tragedy that forces our protagonist to question it all. As such, A Man Named Pearl makes for a good segment on 60 Minutes, but it is not particularly captivating big screen entertainment. — Chris Haire