DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
A GOOD YEAR (director: Ridley Scott; screenwriter: from the novel A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle/Marc Klein; cinematographer: Philippe Le Sourd; editor: Dody Dorn; music: Marc Streitenfeld; cast: Russell Crowe (Max Skinner), Albert Finney (Uncle Henry), Marion Cotillard (Fanny Chenal), Abbie Cornish (Christie Roberts), Tom Hollander (Charlie Willis), Freddie Highmore (Young Max), Didier Bourdon (Francis Duflot), Isabelle Candelier (Ludivine Duflot), Archie Panjabi (Gemma), Rafe Spall (Kenny), Kenneth Cranham (Sir Nigel), Jacques Herlin (Papa Duflot); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Ridley Scott; Fox 2000 Pictures; 2006)

 
"Does not translate into a good film."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A Good Year does not translate into a good film. It reunites the Gladiator duo of star Russell Crowe and director Sir Ridley Scott ("Blade Runner") in a romantic comedy. It's taken from the 2004 novel A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle (a close friend of the director's) and scripted by Marc Klein. Crowe and Scott never did comedy before, and they seem to have little flair for it. It's a pleasant, predictable and picturesque film, but not a vintage one. It comes with a simplistic and unconvincing moral bent upon money not being able to buy everything, which it lays on its concluding scene in a ludicrous and unsatisfactory way. The chick flick awkwardly settles into being a tale about a scoundrel living a selfish hedonistic materialist life and learning by the film's end after trading in one luxurious lifestyle for another to loosen up because there's more to life than working hard only for money: one should enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Everything gets so flattened out that there's no comedy (Crowe's pratfalls are limp) or romance (there's an attempt at a romance in the third act, but that's too little and it comes too late to be believed). What we have are the fish out of water Crowe and Scott mired in a film that doesn't suit either of their talents. Crowe is in the role Hugh Grant is typecast for, where he can do his required pratfalls and innocuous romantic bits much better in his sleep than the roughhouse Crowe can manage with all his huffing and puffing.

Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) is an insensitive, self-absorbed and highly successful London banker and bond trader who works and plays hard. The fast-living bachelor in his late thirties doesn't believe in holidays, having stolen his current job when his boss took one, and callously calls his obedient underlings "lab rats." With the death of his snobbish, womanizer bachelor Uncle Henry (Albert Finney), someone he has not seen for the last ten years, Max inherits his vast country estate and vineyard in south France and goes there immediately to sell it with the help of best friend Charlie (Tom Hollander)--a London real-estate broker. Once at the chic Provence estate, Max learns that he's forced to stay for a week because of a business misconduct charge his boss Sir Nigel suspended him for. While chilling, Max decides the place could use a paint job and some tidying up but is almost as good as paradise, and he begins to have second thoughts about selling. Max wrestles with pleasant childhood memories of living there with Henry (seen through flashback); he literally runs into the fiery, sexy bistro owner/waitress Fanny (Marion Cotillard), whom he knew in childhood when both were children and falls madly in love with her after getting off to a bad start; the unexpected visit of winelover Napa Valley, California, teenager Christie (Abbie Cornish), who may or may not be Uncle Henry's long-abandoned peach-faced daughter but oddly shows no interest that she might indeed be the rightful inheritor of the place and lets it be known she has only come to learn about her father; and the resident winemaker (Didier Bourdon), Max's nemesis, and his friendly domestic wife (Isabelle Candelier), who urge Max to keep it for Henry's sake. 

It has the look and feel of a travel-brochure; all the lead actresses are beautiful but unappealing as actresses; the film fails to create any tension over any of Max's problems and never even develops a possible rivalry over the estate from the illegitimate daughter; and, worst of all, the anti-materialist life-lessons nearly made me gag being how they were presented in such a smug, banal and artificial way. This bland film, where wine is just another investment commodity, makes Sideways look like an esoteric art film.

REVIEWED ON 11/17/2006        GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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