I am always wary when people start doing things outside of their comfort zones. Sometimes these people discover something in them nobody thought was there in the first place. Look at Ben Affleck, for instance, everybody had written him off and he came back with a vengeance as a director. Nobody saw that coming. But it is the honest truth that most of the time these experiments don’t really pay off. One of these instances is A Good Year by Ridley Scott, which is one of the most misguided disasters I have ever seen.
In A Good Year we meet Max Skinner (Russell Crowe), a ruthless stockbroker in London who has no time for vacation or any other such nonsense. But, as we see in the opening scene, he has a very romantic history. He lived on a French farm with his uncle (Albert Finney) where he learned to appreciate wine and play chess and tennis. On a fateful day he gets the message that his uncle has passed away and that the estate in France where he grew up has been left to him. He has to go to France to finalize the papers and look at the estate. There he discovers that life is more than just money and backstabbing.
Honestly, would you expect a plot like the one described above to belong to a movie directed by Ridley Scott? No, of course not. Scott is the director of grandiose genre movies like Gladiator, Alien, Blade Runner, 1492 and Kingdom of Heaven. Even his more intimate movies (e.g. Thelma & Louise and White Squall) feel larger than life. And on top of that, comedy is not really his thing. Let alone romantic comedy. And that is exactly what A Good Year is, an unabashed romantic comedy. Scott is so far outside of his comfort zone that it almost looks like somebody dared him into making this movie. It is that awkward.
Besides Scott working miles outside of his comfort zone there is Russell Crowe, not one for being the funniest man in the cast of a movie. This is the guy who brought us Romper Stomper, L.A. Confidential, Gladiator and 3:10 to Yuma. All movies I highly recommend checking out. A Good Year sees Crowe trying to do slapstick romantic comedy and it is quite embarrassing. He digs deep to find that speck of comedic talent, but he never really finds it. His performance comes across as strained and unbelievable. On top of that he speaks with a terrible British accent that must have been grating for a Brit like Scott to hear (provided Scott was even on set to direct this mess).
Could A Good Year have been a better movie had it not been in the hands of Scott and Crowe? Maybe, who knows? Unfortunately the script itself is not really good to begin with. It is based on a 2004 novel by Peter Mayle of the same name. I have not read this, so I can’t judge the adaptation. There is a lot in the script that just comes across as a simplistic view of England and France. England is all hard work and no fun, depicted by Scott with blue-gray tones and bustling streets. France is of course the most beautiful place on Earth in contrast to Scott’s London. The colors are vibrant and the people are ruggedly rural. It’s this incredibly one-sided view of the Provence that annoyed me to no end. There is even a scene where Crowe’s character tells off the stereotypical American couple and suggests that they go to McDonalds in the city. So… annoying.
There are, however, some moments that do work and these have to do with the flashbacks to Skinner’s time at the estate as a young boy. Yes, these are still incredibly romantic, but they are memories and those are allowed to be just that. We see Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland) and Albert Finney (Erin Brockovich) playing chess, drink (watered down) wine and play tennis and it is lovely. These two actors clearly have a lot of fun with these scenes and they cement the relationship between Max and his uncle Henry. Only for it to be squandered by Crowe later in life. How ironic. Steer clear.