A GOOD YEARPG-13
A Good Year is a good argument for placing a moratorium on films about "Anglo-Saxons" (as the French call them) finding their inner selves in Europe's garden spots. Based on the 1989 bestseller by Peter Mayle, this Gallic tourist-porn feels as stale as yesterday's baguette. It would seem that Sir Ridley Scott needed a break from gladiators and Black Hawk whirlybirds, and opted to spend a couple of months kicking back in Provence (where both he and his friend Mayle own homes). That said, given the rigors of travel these days, A Good Year is a harmless way for armchair Francophiles to bask for two hours in glorious scenery, and watch the antics of Russell Crowe playing against type.
Max Skinner (Crowe), a cocky London bonds trader, unexpectedly inherits the rundown Provençal chateau and vineyards that belonged to his oenophile uncle Henry (Albert Finney). Though Max spent idyllic childhood days on the estate, he arrives planning to roll over the property for a barrel-full of euros--and never mind that the longtime vintner (Didier Bourdon) wants to keep the place intact. But some insider-trading finagling conveniently forces Max to lie low for a while in France. This gives him time to become seduced by the simple joys of country living, and fall for Fanny (Marion Cotillard), local hottie and restaurateur.
The film, which screened at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival, explores the tired premise: Can a type-A urban animal give it all up for a belle Française and mellow provincial life? What's puzzling: The actual Provence is plenty enchanting--so why did the filmmakers get it mostly wrong, from the central-casting Happy Villagers yapping up a storm as they lunch in the village square (unlike Americans, the French do not shout while they eat), to the filtered golden dusks, more typical perhaps of Umbria than Gordes (where Mayle situated his book). Oh, and there's also a subplot involving Uncle Henry's American daughter (Abbie Cornish), who shows up on the doorstep to lay claim to part of the estate--but she's there mainly as extra eye-candy.
What's fun is to watch Russell Crowe, hair straightened and center-parted '20s-style, play madcap with his mix of gruff and tender, and deliver fizzy one-liners. Yeah, it's a bit of a stretch; his sallow coloring and scrotal voice go better with slaying centurions than falling into waterless pools and other pratfalls. But Crowe's charm carries the film. He almost persuades you that all that money 'n power stuff counts as nothing compared to sipping Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape with his sweetheart--especially since in the age of connectivity he can have both.