A Good Year

A Good Year

Not even Russell Crowe can look cool in that jacket and Marion Cotillard knows it.

(20th Century Fox) Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Marion Cotillard, Abbie Cornish, Freddie Highmore, Archie Panjabi, Didier Bourdon, Isabelle Candalier, Jacques Herlin, Tom Hollander, Rafe Spall, Kenneth Cranham, Richard Coyle.  Directed by Ridley Scott

Life is what happens, according to John Lennon, when we’re making other plans. As with many other things, the Beatle had it right. Too often we’re so involved with the day to day distractions of mortgages, raising children, work, school, and the little recreations of TV and internet that we lose sight of what it is to truly live. As a species, I don’t believe we were meant to live this way, and yet we do, day after day.

For some, life is all about the pursuit of money, and for none more so than Max Skinner (Crowe), an underhanded, cold-hearted bond trader in London. He has no scruples when it comes to making profit, whether it involves bending the laws to the breaking point or screwing over friends, colleagues and God knows how many strangers. He is a human shark without pity or feeling. His is a life full of sex but lacking love. In fact, he has only truly loved one person in his entire life; his Uncle Henry (Finney).

Uncle Henry has a chateau in Provence, France where he makes a liquid that somewhat resembles wine. As a boy (Highmore), Max used to visit regularly, especially after his parents died. Henry was a bit on the eccentric side, an avowed ladies man who never married and never intended to. As time went on and Max grew into the adult he would become, he and Henry grew apart. They hadn’t spoken much in ten years when Max received word that Henry had passed on.

Since Henry had not updated his will, Max as his closest known blood relative inherited everything; the chateau, the vineyards and the possessions. Max is not interested in these things and wants to sell them as quickly as possible, preferably with as little involvement in time or trouble as possible. Unfortunately, he is forced to go to Provence to sign paperwork and so he returns to the chateau. There, he is re-introduced to Duflot (Bourdon), who takes care of the vines and makes the wine and his wife Ludivine (Candalier) who is also the chateau’s housekeeper. They are happy to see him, but are also wary; they don’t know what his intentions are and they can smell the trouble on the horizon.

Nor does he disappoint them. When Duflot discovers what Max’s intentions are, he is furious but essentially helpless. After all, the property does belong to Max, who is getting ready to leave when a chance encounter with a headstrong local waitress named Fanny Chenal (Cotillard) causes Max to miss his flight back to London. Things are now further complicated by the appearance of Christie Roberts (Cornish), a Californian who claims to be Henry’s daughter. Max decides to stay in order to protect his property.

And yet the charms of Provence and the leisurely lifestyle of the wine country of France are beginning to weave their charms on him. Moreover, he has begun to fall in love with Fanny Chenal. Reconciling his life as a high-powered bond trader and the life that is part and parcel with the chateau is nigh on impossible. Which life is Max to choose?

This is a stab at comedy, something neither Crowe nor director Scott (who previously worked together on Gladiator) is known for. In point of fact, this isn’t an all-out comedy along the lines of a Borat or Talladega Nights. There are a few moments that are genuinely funny, at Crowe gamely tries his hand at slapstick in a couple of places with some effect. What I liked was watching Crowe poke fun at his own image as a tough guy, particularly in the scene where he is reduced to a gibbering wreck by an intruding scorpion and must be saved by Ludivine. However, it must be said that some of the comic moments do fall a little flat.

Fortunately, that doesn’t cause too much damage. The movie relies on sedate charm, languid pacing and gorgeous photography to cast its spell, and it doesn’t hurt to have some nice work from the cast. Candalier is particularly effervescent in a small role, but when she’s onscreen, she lights things up. Cotillard is a luminous beauty whose strong willed nature doesn’t overwhelm the movie’s gentle spirit. Highmore does a commendable job as the young Max; he has a genuine rapport with Finney, and you get the distinct impression that the two forged a nice bond during filming. Finney is always marvelous, and he doesn’t disappoint here.

The message of living life as if you love it is one that can’t be repeated often enough, because we lose sight of the lesson far too easily. I can see tourism in the Provence region picking up after people see this movie; it looks like a marvelous place to recharge and reflect. This is a romantic movie that is relatively painless for those who are prone to distrusting romantic movies. Sometimes, the proper prescription is a movie that rather than shouting its message at you prefers to deliver it in a soft, soothing voice.

WHY RENT THIS: The charm of Provence is bound to work its magic on you. The acting here is superb, particularly the French actors.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not all of the comedy works here.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little rough language and some sexual content but nothing too out there. This is fine for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: According to director Ridley Scott, all of the scenes set in Provence were filmed less than an eight minute drive from his home there.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Get Him to the Greek

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