Eating Crowe

Based on Peter Mayle’s 80s yuppie fantasy A Year in Provence and directed by his old friend and colleague in the advertising business Ridley Scott, A Good Year is a tired, predictable knockabout farce pushed beyond the point of blithe disregard by an atypical performance by the Gladiator star Russell Crowe, unforgettable for all the wrong reasons. His Max Skinner (played as a boy by Freddie Highmore) used to spend idyllic summers at his roguish Uncle Henry’s (Albert Finney) chateau and vineyard in Provence. Now, fully-grown but hardly matured, Max is a bond trader in The City of London, a high-flying millionaire and low-minded boor. When word arrives that Uncle Henry has died, Max takes off to France to settle his affairs, and sell his treasured home to the highest bidder, leaving Henry’s staff, Francis (Didier Bourdon) and wife Ludivine (Isabelle Candelier) out of a job and homeless. A convenient job suspension for insider trading keeps Max in Provence longer than he planned, but just long enough for the rural charm to cast its spell. Intrigue and romance arrives in the form of beautiful American girl Christie (Abbie Cornish), who says Uncle Henry was her father and who might stymie Skinner’s plans for a quick sale.

A Good Year is so mistimed and miscast that it simply collapses. The elderly jokes are uncomfortably delivered, with much supposed comedy made from Crowe peeking up ladies skirts and down blouses. Not that amusing (unless you’re Sid James and the good year in question is 1963) but eye-wideningly crass and embarrassingly broadly played. Even more painful is the steady arrangement of slapstick physical gags; inelegant tumbles and pratfalls that Crowe, no gazelle, thumps his way through without raising a single moment of humour. By naming a dog Tati, and showing a few clips from M Hulot’s Holiday, Scott is attempting to channel the master of French confusion, Jacques. By the third or fourth banana skin homage, the director has run out of ideas, leaving the remainder of the mirth over to a series of running jokes (scorpions, cyclists, senility) that, uniquely, die more painfully each time they are revived. There is even a speeded-up sequence, believe it or not. Between these excruciating moments there is a constant slideshow of chocolate-box countryside portraits and some marginally more animated, misty-eyed flashbacks to Skinner’s idyllic youth.

All of this reminiscing is supposed to uncoil itself into a damascene conversion as Skinner learns the errors of his ways, but none of it works. Despite the script’s horrible contrivances and Crowe’s desperate mugging, the film never succeeds in changing our opinion of Skinner, much less learn to like him, although it does increase our sympathy for the other characters forced into his orbit. The film is laboured to the point where you feel obliged to notify a shop steward, even up to the point of the inane and undeserved happy ending (which wouldn’t have made it out of the room at a Scooby Doo script conference). Support, from the best mate Tom Hollander, Albert Finney as the bon vivant late Uncle and romantic interest Marion Cotillard as a feisty local waitress, is all wallpaper; mere dressing for Crowe’s master-class in smarm.

Having undercooked his last epic Kingdom of Heaven, Scott sticks closely to the recipe for light comedy here, but is uninspired and uninvolved, making his clumsy film feel middle aged and slightly tipsy. Displaying all the facility for the material you’d expect from his pug face and growling tones, Crowe never relaxes into the situations the story presents him with, much less breathe through his nose. Fatally, he never changes from smug and obnoxious to human and grateful, making A Good Year just one aggressive, blundering moment after another; an arrogant, actively dislikeable experience.


Aiden Kenny said...

Hi John,

Just caught your last reviews on the podcast. Appreciated your bon-mot about movies offering "value for money when you are shopping for studid and dumb". Although you have to tell Today FM to get their podcast wizardary dude to spell your name correctly. It randomly alternates between "John McGuire" and "John Mc Guire" on a weekly basis. I have yet to see Maguire. Gotta get your brand out there boy.

Aiden Kenny said...

Um, ironic karma anyone? Studid in last comment should have read "stupid". (Need coffee now.)

Anonymous said...

Your comments were interesting, but I reached the same conclusion just from watching the trailer.

John said...

Lucky You