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Overall Rating

Awesome: 10%
Worth A Look: 0%
Just Average: 6.67%
Pretty Crappy63.33%
Sucks: 20%

4 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Good Year, A
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Looks Like Moet, Goes Down Like Muscatel"
2 stars

If “A Good Year” were just an ordinary bit of failed frothy entertainment–the kind of anonymous boilerplate fluff that usually comes from either neophyte filmmakers trying to prove themselves to studio bigwigs or journeyman hacks going through the motions for a paycheck–it would be easy enough to simply dismiss it without any further thought. The problem with “A Good Year” is that it is an exercise in failed frothy entertainment made by an extremely talented director, Ridley Scott, who has no discernible flair for that particular style of filmmaking. The result is a film that is so aggressive in its efforts to be quirky and whimsical that even those with a taste for such things may find themselves put off by it after a while. Let me put it this way–this is the kind of film that features a French-language rendition of “Itsy-Bitsy Teeny-Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini” on the soundtrack and that isn’t the most cloyingly cutesy moment.

Russell Crowe stars as Max Skinner, a British stock-market bigwig who is so smooth and successful in his professional life that we don’t even need to be told that he is an emotionally aloof cold fish whose life is ripe for an especially whimsical overhaul. After concluding an enormous lucrative deal–one that he pulled off by skirting any number of rules of fair play–Max learns that his estranged Uncle Henry (played in flashbacks by Albert Finney) has passed away and that he, as his last known living relative, has inherited the vineyard in Provence where he spent many a summer as a barefoot boy with cheek of tan. Max jets off to France in order to arrange for the place to be put on the market as quickly as possible but while he is there, he gets word that he has been suspended from his job for a week because of his trading shenanigans and, with nothing else to do, begins to clean the place up for prospective buyers.

Assuming that you have seen more than two movies in your life, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that over the next few days, Max learns to slow down, sniff the grapes and discover that there is more to life than making millions of dollars by day and a parade of comely beauties by night. You probably won’t be surprised to discover that he meets a comely local girl, feisty waitress Fanny (Marion Cotillard), and the two begin one of those relationships that start off with them hating each other for no particular reason and then falling into each others arms for no apparent reason. You probably won’t be surprised to discover that Max eventually is forced to decide between returning to his old life of coarse, naked greed or throwing it all away to stay in Provence with Fanny. (Luckily, he is aided in the decision by the millions that he presumably has socked away.) If there is a surprise, it comes with the arrival of Christie (Abbie Cornish), a sexy young American girl who shows up one day claiming to be Henry’s illegitimate daughter–despite the fact that she could well be his cousin, this doesn’t stop Max from at one point trying to decide whether he should screw her out of her share of the vineyard or just screw her period.

Actually, the real surprise about “A Good Year” comes from the fact that Scott, the man behind such notable films as “Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Thelma & Louise,” “Gladiator” and “Black Hawk Down,” would choose to utilize his prodigious talents in the service of a film that is essentially a male version of “Under the Tuscan Sun.” To pull off a film along these lines, even one as relentlessly predictable as this, requires a certain light and delicate touch to keep things from getting too silly and ham-fisted. And yet, while Scott has had no trouble in the past in conjuring up exquisitely detailed renditions of past or future worlds or staggeringly complex battle scenes, he seems completely at sea when it comes to dealing with two cute people in a room making goo-goo eyes at each other or a gallery of supporting characters who seem to exist solely to act colorful on cue. Perhaps Scott saw this film as a challenge to his skills as a director (many words have been used to describe his other films but “light” and “frothy” have never been among them) but if that is the case, it is a challenge that he is simply not up to pulling off. He stumbles right from the beginning with such hard-sell silliness as Crowe struggling with such adversities as an empty swimming pool, a yapping dog and a tiny rental car and towards the end, he is so desperate to convey the spirit of a whimsical French comedy of manners–the kind of thing that Jacques Tati could have tossed off in his sleep–that he shoehorns in a sequence chock-full of clips from classic French films in an effort to prod the audience. While this sequence may inspire viewers to refresh their Netflix lists (I know it made me want to drag out my copy of “The Young Girls of Rochefort”), all it really does is serve as a reminder of how effortless those films were and how leaden Scott’s attempt is in comparison.

Even if Scott somehow managed to figure out the right approach to the material, “A Good Year” would still flounder because the central roles have been so bizarrely miscast. I can understand why Russell Crowe would want to take this part–it seems tailor-made to allow him to show a softer and cuddlier side on screen (and off)–but like Scott, he tries so hard to be ingratiating that he winds up making a fool of himself more often than not. Frankly, it is kind of embarrassing to see an actor of his stature pratfalling into a muddy swimming pool or struggling with his tiny rental car as though he were just another Hugh Grant wannabe and not one of the best actors at work today. Even more annoying is Marion Cotillard as duly designated paramour Fanny, although this may have less to do with her personally and more to do with the fact that she is stuck playing a virtually unplayable character. This is one of those characters who is so insistent on letting you know that she is the single most adorable and quirky cutie on the planet that the only way it can work is if she really is the single most adorable and quirky cutie on the planet. Alas, Fanny is no Amelie, Cotillard is no Audrey Tautou (though she did play Tautou’s dark opposite in “A Very Long Engagement”) and despite all the goony faces that she and Crowe make at each other, they strike zero sparks together.

Although “A Good Year” is pretty much a washout through and through, there are a couple of nice aspects to the enterprise that deserve to be pointed out. Like all of Scott’s films, this is a visually stunning work–the cinematography from Philippe Le Sourd makes the French countryside look so lush and lovely that anyone watching the film may find themselves idly speculating about spending some time there (provided that they don’t actually have to encounter any of the characters). There is also a really nice supporting turn from newcomer Abbie Cornish as the wild card American ingenue. Although presumably best known to most people for her alleged involvement in a certain Hollywood breakup, she is quite a strong actress as well (as you will see in a couple of weeks with the release of the harrowing “Candy” or by going to your video store to check out the coming-of-age drama “Somersault”) and she captures the flighty California vibe of her character so completely that you might be surprised to discover that she is actually Australian through and through. Granted, she doesn’t really get much to do here other than be the sprightly ingenue but she does so with such charm that she stands out like a rare and refreshing spirit in a film that is otherwise 100% pure merlot.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15167&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/10/06 00:17:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/21/08 rori mullinos brilliand to watch 5 stars
1/18/08 Troy McCullough Me and my girlfriend loved it , we thought what a nice leave you smiling movie... 5 stars
12/12/06 William Goss Goes down better than it should, but the strain to be light is constantly apparent. 3 stars
11/21/06 Jack Mooney Looks like they tried too hard 3 stars
11/12/06 baabee delightful ! I saw everyone wearing a smile when leaving. 5 stars
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  10-Nov-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 27-Feb-2007



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