Film Review: A Good Year (2006)
A Good Year is a British-American dramedy with a good side of romance, produced and directed by Ridley Scott. Russell Crowe stars alongside Albert Finney, Freddie Highmore, Tom Hollander, Abbie Cornish and Marion Cotillard. Indeed, A Good Year has a very good cast.
Set in southern France, in Provence, A Good Year is loosely based on the novel of the same name by Peter Mayle, a neighbour and good friend of the above-mentioned Ridley Scott. Indeed, it was discussions between these two that led to Mayle’s book, which then led to Scott’s film adaptation.
Although billed as a rom-com, A Good Year is truly more of a journey of self-discovery for a man who has lost his way. Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) is a no-holds-barred, sardonic stockbroker who has long forgotten the joyous, little boy he once was. But when forced to return to his childhood haunts in southern France, memories of his boyish self (Freddie Highmore) and the lessons learned from his dearly departed uncle (Albert Finney) begin to surface. Max begins to reevaluate his life and its current trajectory.
When the Boy Becomes the Pirate
There’s a line from the movie Hook, delivered by the always wonderful Dame Maggie Smith, who’s playing the Wendy who grew up, where she looks at the greedy, preoccupied man Peter Pan has become and says, “So, Peter, you’ve become a pirate.” The essence of that line, of childhood innocence lost and grown-up cynicism found, is the essence of A Good Year. The Peter Pan-like joie de vivre of Max Skinner the boy has been replaced with sardonic cynicism and egoism of Max Skinner the man.
The only heir to his estranged uncle’s estate, Max Skinner returns to his uncle’s chateau and vineyard in Provence after many, many years of absence. He’s there to wrap things up as soon as possible, sell the estate, and get back to London and his high-flying career. Max is dashing, arrogant, wickedly witty, superficial in many ways. And yes, he’s an incredibly charming jerk – a real rogue.
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But the quick stay in Provence suddenly gets prolonged, after Max is suspended for some dubious stock market manipulations. And after the stipulations of the will are a bit more complicated than first thought, especially when a young, American woman (Abbie Cornish) suddenly shows up on the chateau doorstep, saying that Uncle Henry is her dad. And after a certain feisty French café owner (Marion Cotillard) catches the eye of one lonely British stockbroker.
Truly, Max is lonely. That is becoming increasingly clear. The cynicism, the sardonic wit, the sleazy charm is all a front. And the longer he stays in his uncle’s home, the more he remembers the dreaming, wondering boy, he once was. The more he begins to regret his estrangement from the only man who ever truly loved him, his dear uncle. And the more he begins to become his uncle.
In one of the film’s running gags, Max has literally no clothes with him when he came for his quick stopover. So, when the stopover gets prolonged, he finds himself having to raid his uncle’s wardrobe. The designer suits are swapped for ill-fitting old man slacks and sweater vests. It’s an enjoyable transformation, which Max takes in good stride and humor.
And yes, it’s all leading up to a man making a decision about his life, what he wants out of it, and what will make him truly happy in the long run. Can the boy and the man reconcile?
There’s a lot to recommend A Good Year. It’s beautifully filmed. Southern France has never been lovelier. The acting is first rate and the chemistry between the cast is palpable. There is so much to dislike about Max Skinner, but you find yourself being charmed by him anyhow. And that says something about Russell Crowe’s portrayal. Max is ultimately a redeemable rogue.
A Good Year is a feelgood film that hits many of the predictable and expected and necessary feelgood points. Where it disappoints though is in the romance department. The romance is too pat, too rushed. I mean, she’s in bed with him lickety-split and he’s not that charming. So, there’s a kind of routinized falseness to that aspect of the story. And it’s this romantic failing which probably aided and abetted the movie’s flopping at the box office. It was and is incorrectly categorized and billed as a romantic comedy. It is not a romantic comedy.
But just because the romance isn’t quite there, it does not mean that A Good Year isn’t worth watching, isn’t redeemable. It is. It’s saccharine and predictable and funny. And did I mention I am a total sucker for tales about grown-ups reconnecting with their inner childhood selves? A Good Year may be romantically flawed, but it does redeem itself in the feelgood department.
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Where to Watch: Rent and/or buy on Digital/DVD.
Content Note: Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual content. Swearing in British accents always sounds cute to my ears, but yes, there are more than a few cuss words in the film. Max Skinner is an arrogant cad. There are sexual innuendos. Again, Max Skinner is an arrogant cad. No skin. One brief sex scene, where nothing much is seen.
Have you seen A Good Year? What are your thoughts on this movie? Let me know in the comments.
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.
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