Just exactly why anyone anywhere at anytime thought it would be a good idea to have Ridley Scott make a romantic comedy starring Russell Crowe is one of the great riddles of the universe. Actually, since Scott produced the film, one can only presume that the idea of making A Good Year was his, but that hardly answers why he chose to do it. Perhaps he just wanted to try his hand at something different. The problem is that what he made isn’t different. Stylistically, it’s pretty much a standard Ridley Scott picture — with trimmings.
There’s a story — possibly apocryphal — of sex-and-sin religioso spectacle meister Cecil B. DeMille attempting to make a comedy film in the early sound era. Found on the set of the film, DeMille was having a group of people run away from his camera. When asked why, DeMille admitted he really didn’t know, but in every comedy he’d ever seen there was a shot like this, so he was shooting one. True or not, that seems to be the approach taken by Scott with A Good Year — a reproduction of things he’s seen in romantic comedies over the years with no idea why they’re there. But, dammit, they’re supposed to be there, so he’s put them in.
Scott has his hero, Max Skinner (Crowe), and heroine, Fanny Chenal (Marion Cotillard, Big Fish), “meet cute,” but in Scott’s world this involves Max nearly running her down and causing actual physical damage that leaves Fanny with a nasty bruise on her thigh. (Someone should clue Scott in that real pain is neither charming, nor amusing.) There’s a cute dog named Tati (apparently after Jacques Tati, whose films are glimpsed in clips in the film’s one really successful scene) who takes a leak on Max’s shoe. There’s a silly running gag about warding off scorpions with lavender. And there are about a dozen gags involving Max having to deal with driving a Smart car — including a pointless fast-motion shot of him driving around a roundabout two or three times. (Is the Smart car that intrinsically funny? This is only the fourth movie this year to use one.) Of course, it’s all smothered in a healthy layer of pop tunes — a nice selection ranging from Josephine Baker to Harry Nilsson (who gets the lion’s share), few of which are applied with any real feeling for the music.
As bad — or at least as lame — as all this is, Scott’s so uneasy with the material that he’s cut the film together in an awkwardly aggressive manner somewhere in between a TV commercial (the world from whence Scott came) and a music video. This is particularly disruptive in a film that’s supposed to be spreading the gospel of slow down, take it easy, enjoy life, etc.
Even if all this were handled better, the material is threadbare and stale. Ultra-nasty stockbroker Max finds that his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) has died and goes to Provence to sign some papers and quickly turn a profit on the property. Things do not go as planned, thanks to cliched locals, roseate visions of the past, a pointless intrusion by a would-be heiress (Abbie Cornish, Candy) and, of course, falling in love with Fanny Chenal. It’s as old as the hills and not made any fresher by the sun-dappled beauty of Provence. It’s not much more than Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), but set in France and with Russell Crowe standing in for Diane Lane.
Truth to tell, Crowe isn’t awful in the film, but he’s too stiff for physical comedy (which in Scott’s hands is always too painful-looking) and too lacking in innate charm to bring much flavor to the role. On very rare occasions, Scott and Crowe manage scenes of genuine charm, but these are few and far between in a movie that you’ve seen done better at least a dozen times before. Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual content.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke