A Good Year could have delivered but didn’t. The reunion of director Ridley Scott and Russel Crowe after “Gladiator” would have been like a vacation in Provence, the setting of the story, which is an adaptation of Peter Mayle’s novel, until they proved that they were wrong for the project. Scott’s forte is still in making believable heart-stopping battle scenes while Crowe’s is anything but a romantic lead no matter how well his physical presence makes the character he portrays more visually appealing. Throughout the course of the film, he looks more at ease as the driven and money-hungry stocks trader than as a lad who falls in love with a French chick…except for the torrid kissing bit, of course.
As the story goes, after nearly sabotaging his financial career in the London stock market, British Max Skinner (Crowe) heads off to Provence to manage the sale of the chateaus that he inherits upon his uncle’s untimely death. Sadly, the chateau is in a shocking state of disrepair and its surrounding vineyard produces wine that is almost undrinkable. To make matters worse, an American surprises him with claims that she is his uncle’s daughter and therefore the rightful owner of the property. It doesn’t help his plans either that the young American knows more about wine than he does, or cares more about the vineyard than he wants to admit. But amidst the rush to sell the property, he meets–and as expected, falls in love with–a local bar owner, Fanny (Marion Cotillard). What follows is a choice between the life he has always known in London and the one that he has left behind.
I don’t know exactly in which part of the story my mind started to wander off. There are films about “the good life” that hold the viewer’s attention with gorgeous vistas, mouthwatering food and overflowing wine as traditional music plays in the background. And it’s unfortunate that this one doesn’t, for some reason. It could be that the story-telling isn’t tight enough, or that Crowe literally fumbles and tumbles a little too much on so many occasions to prove perhaps that his character is, after all, a slick city dweller. In addition to the British-vs.-French cliches, “A Good Year” fails to decide on which it wants to emphasize–the development of its main character or the beauty of Provençal life.
Still, when I grow up, I’d like to live in a chateau in Provence.