A Good Year

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A GOOD YEAR, a 2006 rom-con, wears its biggest joke egged on its face: a “comedy” starring Russell Crowe, directed by Ridley Scott.  Crowe has power and dramatic presence like very few; Scott can arrange tension and spectacle that generate awe. They have a great working relationship (and quite enjoyed making this) and probably are a kick to kick-back with. But “romantic comedy,” sunny French vineyard variety? Nous pensons pas.

Killer-instinct London bond trader ‘Max Skinner’ (Crowe) inherits his deceased uncle’s  run-down chateau and wine acres in Provence. Flashbacks show the young boy (Freddie Highmore) learning lessons from the old rascal (Albert Finney), while the present has him seeking to dump the place…until local cafe owner—and resident alluring beauty—‘Fanny Chenal’ (Marion Cotillard) crosses his path. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist (or grape-fiend) to see where things are destined to go over the (laborious) 118-minute path to get there, but as with all such confections, suspense is a distant second to rendition. Aye, there be the rub.

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First off—and best by far, enough to warrant a view—is the look, a virtual cinch from a Scott offering. It glows like $35,000,000 worth of summer-drenched location scenery and careful production design, lensed by Philippe Le Sourd on seductive countryside and township locations in Vaucluse (where Scott has a home) and in London (for the slick big-money angles).

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The script, by Marc Klein, off a novel written Peter Mayle, is not bad, yet it does include two pointed, self-indicting pronouncements among its array of stings and thorns that “comedy is all about timing“, and that is the KA-BONK! problem with this umpteenth tale of greed undone by goodness. The pratfalls fall prat, the carbon-dated speed-up-camera-stuff with the car was DOA decades earlier, the grudging romance between surly cynics works only because the script-beats says so. No matter the performers skills; as written and directed their selfish, churlish, combative characters are almost all unlikable. Papering the soundtrack with pop songs doesn’t help.  Great to look at, just not funny.  Critics and audiences agreed and the gross of $42,062,000 marked it a flop: after prints and marketing figured in, the returns needed by the studio saw them take a bath in the region of $20,000,000.

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Time for some wine…in the afternoon sun…perhaps with Mademoiselle Cotillard?…(Russ, Rid—we’ll have some pints later)

With Abbie Cornish, Didier Bourdon, Isabelle Candelier, Archie Panjabi, Tom Hollander, Rafe Spall and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi.

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