November 24, 2006
A Good Year
Not exactly original, I will grant you.
Russell Crowe plays Max Skinner, a Brit stockbroker for whom the rules of the game are nonexistent. He is rich, a ladies man, and as callous as a buffalo hide.
Then his genial uncle dies. The uncle with whom Max spent his summers as a lad. The uncle who left the England he loved in order to live a life a leisure overseeing a luxurious Provencal estate complete with vineyard. The uncle who provided the best memories Max has.
And so—you guessed it—Max the City Boy inherits the estate and the vineyard and the staff, all of which he intends to sell as quickly as possible and for as much money as possible, as he had not been back to Provencal or been in touch with his uncle for ten years and could not imagine a life more than a tube stop away from Picadilly and the City.
Then Max's "cousin" shows up—the illegitimate daughter of his uncle, and with more of a valid legal claim to the property than Max has.
Needless to say, a mild wackiness ensues, including a love affair between Max and a volatile native and an ethics investigation back home.
And it is this mild wackiness that is the charm of the film, the kind of picture you could imagine Cary Grant having starred in back in the day, with just a visual hint of that great French comic genius Jacques Tati, whose films are highlighted on an outdoor movie screen.
Albert Finney supplies the necessary gravitas, the sun-burnt wisdom of the man-full-of-years, which amounts to little more than a moral imperative to enjoy one's life. And this, ironically, is the weakness of the film, if we were to get picky about it. While Max is derided as a rule- and heartbreaking capitalist pig, his uncle, who supposedly lives a superior, Mediterranean, and civilized life, is little more than an irresponsible cad who makes crap wine and who dropped out of society—oh, and who has a daughter he never met.
Crowe seems to be having fun in a role that does not exactly tax his considerable talents, as opposed to the role of that other Max—Maximus Decimus Meridias—in that other Ridley Scott–directed film, Gladiator.
And yet, and yet—just once I would like to see a film in which the ambitious city slicker embraces his life, makes no apologies for it, and admits to himself and everyone else that a life in the country would prove to be little more than an early grave. Why does a fast-paced, productive, ambitious life always entail corruption and deep-seated unhappiness? Why can't the go-getter be basically honest, imaginative, and just as in love with all that a London or a New York or a Rome or Tokyo has to offer culturally as his or her "earthy" relative or girlfriend is in love with all that the country has to offer?
A Good Year is a pleasant trifle about living the life one presumably should have lived, as opposed to the life one has made, but it is not worth paying $10 for (the movie, not the life). Wait for spring and do the Netflix thing.
Links to this post: