A Good Year
Is it good for those Gladiator dudes Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe to team up again for a romantic comedy about winemaking in the South of France? Perhaps not, but it's a nice try.
A Good Year has the makings of a pleasant, serene romp through grapevines and lovely French vistas. But while being terribly atmospheric, the story itself tends to drag on. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Peter Mayle, the first 40 minutes or so are somewhat engaging as we're introduced to London-based investment expert Max Skinner (Crowe), who has gotten himself into a bit of a pickle and is being forced into an "extended" vacation in Provence. Max remembers many wonderful summers he spent there with his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) as a child. But now the old man has passed away, and Max has inherited his uncle's small French vineyard. He'd like to sell it straight away but then he meets lovely local café owner Fanny (Marion Cotillard) and becomes smitten. There's also the problem with a young American woman, Christie (Abbie Cornish), who shows up and claims she's Henry's illegitimate daughter. Can Max settle into what seems to be an intoxicating new chapter of his life--and drag A Good Year down with him? Of course.
Mr. Anger Management is obviously going for a gentler image with this performance, and he's more than capable handling the job as romantic lead. But honestly, Crowe is much more effective as Max, the snarling pack leader of the financial wolves, than as Max, a sap softened by Provencal wine and women. Sorry, Russell, but playing tough (or tortured, depending) suits you better. Most of the other characters surrounding Max add nice color, all sun-kissed, country-minded and eccentric. Cotillard (A Very Long Engagement) is particularly glowing as the hardened Fanny, who has had her heart broken a few times and doesn't want a repeat performance. Cornish (Somersault) beams as well, as the girl from Napa Valley, Calif., who knows a few things about winemaking. Actually, some of the more engaging scenes are flashbacks between Finney, as the roguish Uncle Henry, and his young nephew--played with understatement by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's Freddie Highmore. Too bad Highmore couldn't have played the older Max as well.
You can see what director Ridley Scott was trying for with A Good Year. A labor of love for the director--who is good friends with the novelist Peter Mayle, as well as owns a vacation home and vineyard in Provence--A Good Year is full of astounding beauty. Scott frames the exquisite lush vistas of this southern French community with a tender, loving hand. You'll certainly be tempted to pick up a Fodor's guide to the area while checking online for destination prices. But the film seriously lacks the necessary narrative to carry it through. Mayle's novel apparently reads very much like a travelogue, and screenwriter Marc Klein (Serendipity) seems to have difficulty fleshing out parts to make a more cohesive script. Most importantly, however, like Crowe, A Good Year just seems ill-suited for Scott's more serious, action-minded sensibilities. What worked for the two collaborators in the gladiator rings of Rome doesn't ring as true in the grape-soaked vineyards of Southern France.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.