When describing "A Good Year," the most fitting analogy would be to compare it to a dinner party where the boring upscale guests believe themselves to be funny and interesting, but are neither. For primarily action-oriented director Ridley Scott (2005's "Kingdom of Heaven
") and dramatic actor Russell Crowe (2005's "Cinderella Man
"), this is a chance to stretch out and show a lighter, more playful side on their résumés. With neither of them skilled in the ways of comedy, however, they mistake cloying and obvious humor for jokes that are actually funny. Even more egregious is the creeping lack of conflict and plot, rendering all 118 minutes an endurance test to sit through.
Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) is a hotshot financial analyst living in England who is thrown for a loop when news comes that his beloved Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) has passed away. Being the only known relative of his, Max inherits the lush vineyard Henry owned in the French town of Provence and settles down for a relaxing few days of vacation away from his stressful job. The longer he remains in France, the more attuned he becomes to a less hectic, more peaceful lifestyle. As Max personally makes amends to his late uncle, whom he had neglected to see in the last ten years, a pair of women unexpectedly enter his life: American backpacker Christie Roberts (Abbie Cornish), who claims to be Henry's illegitimate daughter, and saucy, attractive restaurateur Fanny Chenal (Marion Contillard). For someone who nearly ran over a bicycling Fanny during a cell phone chat and has no recollection of it, it's going to take real perseverance for Max to win her over.
"A Good Year" is a bad movie. As a scenic overview of France's wine country, the film is beautiful to look at. Like so many stick figure models, though, there doesn't seem to be anything going on in its dull little head. There is next to no plot to speak of. The comedy is predictable and/or lame, resorting to ancient physical gags, as when the diving board Max is standing on collapses and he falls into a waterless pool. The character of Max, who one supposes is meant to be the hero, starts off as a glib, ineffectual bachelor and never endears the viewer. When it comes time in the end to prove that Max has changed for the better and is ready to settle down and make a different life for himself, it can't be bought for a second.
Director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Marc Klein (2001's "Serendipity
") also botch the flashbacks to Max's childhood. Intended to act as the connective tissue between the young and adult Max and his days spent with Uncle Henry, these scenes are too brief and inconsistent to build a relationship of any consequence. Albert Finney (2003's "Big Fish
") and Freddie Highmore (2005's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
") are virtually afterthoughts in the brief roles of young Max and Uncle Henry; it's not that the actors are doing a poor job, but that their scenes are emotionally cold and don't benefit the film in any way.
Russell Crowe is an indisputably talented thespian, but his performance as Max Skinner is stilted and strained. Whereas the actor typically disappears into his roles, here he stands on the outside looking in. When forced into mugging for the camera in an effort to be comical, he understandably looks ill at ease. There are glimmers of charisma in Max's interplay with Christie and Fanny, but both of these female leads are unmistakable plot devices rather than three-dimensional people. For one, are we really expected to believe that the long-lost daughter of Uncle Henry would just so happen to show up the week after his death? Or, for that matter, that Max would nearly hit Fanny with his car, only to fall in love with her and subsequently discover that this isn't the first time they've met? The romantic entanglement between Max and Fanny is marginally sweet but disposable, and those words could also be implemented in the case of the cousin-to-cousin relationship between Max and Christie. Looking like Charlize Theron's younger sister, Abbie Cornish is a feisty, vivacious scene-stealer as Christie, and the closest thing this slog of a picture has to actual energy.
Too cute and pleased with itself by a half, "A Good Year" is an undercooked miscalculation by director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe. It's not funny, it's not touching, and the plotwhat there is of onewalks in place for the duration. Like a dumbed-down male version of 2003's thematically richer "Under the Tuscan Sun
," "A Good Year" could have taken some notes from that film on how to simultaneously make a picturesque travelogue and an involving human interest tale about finding your true self in the unlikeliest of places. Where's Diane Lane when you need her?