It's rare to find a Ridley Scott film that I won't be scrambling to theaters to see. Hell, there aren't many Russell Crowe movies that I have no urge to see in theaters, regardless of any phone-throwing incidents. But when previews came out for A Good Year, the movie just looked boring. And you know what? It kind of is.
"Boring" may not be the right word for A Good Year. "Engaging by a string" may be more accurate. Scott manages to pull you through the story by one, last, breaking string, shifting directions without really doing so, entertaining the audience without actually impressing them, and keeping you just captivated enough that you want to see where things go, all the while your finger is hovering over the "Stop" button on your remote control.
The movie's strength is also its weakness: it is a mishmash of genres, a stew that is edible but not truly distinguishable as anything you would like or recommend. At times it's a drama, as Crowe's playboy character reminisces on his wondrous childhood at his late uncle's French vineyard. At other times it's a comedy, as Crowe scrambles to deliver an effective joke by falling into an empty swimming pool or asking if, in France, it is okay to shag a cousin who he only just met (the response being, "Only if she's not ugly."). Of course, it is also a romance, as Crowe falls in love with a fierce French local, played by Marion Cotillard. Then again, is the movie also a romantic ensemble, as there is a subplot with Crowe attracted to his hot, illegitimate cousin (Abbie Cornish), who looks like she came right out of the 1980's, and his real estate agent who falls for her even more.
A Good Year really is all over the place, and while Scott manages to hold everything together with a resemblance of a plot, the movie's lack of focus is quite odd. In hindsight, I realize that this movie was supposed to be a subtle romantic comedy a la the kind of dramatic approach Sideways took (A Good Year also is about wine), but 99% of the comedy in the movie falls flat on its face. Crowe, known for doing action, drama, suspense and everything else but comedy, really struggles to entertain here. Crowe is a good actor and he is certainly trying, but his subtle jokes aren't funny, and when those fail, the movie resorts to purely goofy antics. Crowe finds himself stuck in a dirt-filled swimming pool for hours, he gets lost and his navigation system only makes things worse, and there are multiple scenes where characters show just how frightened they are of scorpions.
The movie adds so many plots and subplots to the mix, yet none of them are really substantial enough to warrant much interest. Even the main romance between Crowe and Cotillard lacks much spark, and the dozen other stories are watered-down, too. Surprisingly, the only scenes that I really enjoyed were the exchanges between Crowe and his good-looking secretary, played by Archie Panjabi. There is a Bond-Moneypenny thing going on here, and it works quite well.
A Good Year isn't by any means a complete waste, as it swerves and bounces itself off walls on its way to the finish line without completely veering off into left field (I just referenced two completely unrelated sports in one sentence), but Scott and screenwriter Marc Klein needed to decide a trajectory for the movie, and didn't. Based on a novel by Peter Mayle, A Good Year clearly tries to capture every little tidbit of his work (though I have not read the book), and this is the problem: too many subplots, not enough substance. Female fans of Crowe may still find A Good Year amusing, but this is certainly one of his least impressive movies.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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