A Good Year (7/10)
by Tony Medley
Far be it from me to come
down hard on a film with Russell Crowe and Abbie Cornish, two of my
favorite actors. But let’s get the main criticism out of the way at the
start. At somewhere near two hours, this
“fish-out-of-water/coming-of-age” film is just too long.
Something must be
wrong with me. Recently I find myself liking movies I would
normally disdain. This is one of those. A film with a weak
script and a weaker story, I came out thinking that it was
nothing to recommend. But it continued to pop up in my thoughts
in favorable terms. I generally dont do that, certainly not
about films like this, something that advertises itself as a
romantic comedy, that is neither very romantic nor very funny.
Max Skinner (Crowe) is a
hotshot stock trader who inherits a vineyard estate in Provence, France
from his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney). A cold, selfish man who hasn’t
seen his beloved uncle in ten years, Max immediately takes off for the
place in order to sell it as fast as he can. But once he gets there he
becomes reacquainted with Francis Duflot (Didier Bourdon), who is the
caretaker of the estate along with his wife, Mme. Duflot (Esabelle
Candelier, who director Ridley Scott calls “the French Lucille Ball”),
meets Fanny Chenal (Marion Cotillard), a local café owner, of whom he
becomes enamored, and Henry’s illegitimate daughter, Christie (Cornish),
whom he thinks about “shagging,” even if she is his first cousin. As a
result of all this, he is forced to rethink the priorities he has set in
If there’s one term that’s
coming into use today, at least in movies, that I find childish, it’s
the term “shag.” It sounds like a college kid who claims a lot more than
he gets. I think we already have too many laws, but I wouldn’t oppose a
law that imposed capital punishment without trial on anyone who used it.
While I’m at it, is this a one-way term, or can a woman “shag” a man?
Back to the movie, the story
is told with occasional flashbacks to show Max’s relationship with Uncle
Henry when Max (Freddy Highmore plays little Max) was growing up. These
scenes create the nostalgia for the place that keeps attacking Max when
he takes the time to think.
There’s just not enough in
the script (Marc Klein, based on a book by Peter Mayle) to justify
sitting through this for almost two hours, even if it is a pleasure to
look at Cornish and Cotillard, although, after having seen Cornish in
Somersault, one of the hottest films I’ve ever seen, I truly did not
recognize her with her clothes on.
I also liked the music (Marc
Streitenfeld), who used many standards as the score, including “Old Cape
Cod” and “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” (based on “La
fleur que tu m’avais jetee” from Bizet’s Carmen) in French. You’ll have
to stay for some of the closing credits to hear the latter.
One thing this film does
have, however, is staying power. I found myself thinking about it and
remembering it the next day, which I rarely do with films. The
atmosphere of living in Provence is captured with scintillating romance.
The cinematography (Philippe Le Sourd) and Production Design (Sonja
Klaus) are impeccable. Klaus did exceptional work to make the slightly
dilapidated, bug-infested house have the feel of shabby chic, lived-in
Le Sourd almost converts the
film into a series of picture-postcard images of quaint French villages.
Despite the failings of the script and the story, it was the ambience
that these people created that made the film an enjoyable experience for
me. Instead of decrying the lack of a compelling story, or the fact that
it is not a very funny romantic comedy, I just sat back as if I were a
fly on the wall observing life in Provence, lived by people like Russell
Crowe and Abbie Cornish. What’s wrong with that?
November 8, 2006