A British investment broker inherits his uncle’s chateau and vineyard in Provence, where he spent much of his childhood. He discovers a new laid-back lifestyle as he tries to renovate the estate to be sold.
“Forgive my lips; they find joy in the most unusual places.”
A Good Year was a surprise for me. I noticed it as a trailer for some other movie I watched, and thought, “Eh, I’ll add it to Netflix and see what happens.” About a billion and a half years later, it showed up in my mailbox, by which time I had, naturally, forgotten what it was and why I wanted to see it in the first place. So its fate was the same as all the other Netflix movies you don’t remember adding to your queue: it collected dust.
I think it had lain there on the top of the Blu-ray player for at least a month before I snagged the remnants of a bottle of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Votre Santé” Pinot Noir – nope, not joking – and hit “Play”. Imagine my surprise when the movie ended two hours later and I’d also managed to polish off an entire bottle of Pinot Noir from The Cellar Door as well!
The first thing you should know about this movie is that it is, at least on the French locations, beautiful. As in, I wanted to step through the screen beautiful. I wonder if Ridley Scott (yes, THAT Ridley Scott) deliberately tried to make London look dark, wet, cold and dreary. If he was trying, he certainly succeeded.
Maximillian Skinner (Crowe) is now the owner of a French chateau and vineyard, left to him by his dear departed uncle Henry Skinner (Finney – Erin Brockovich, Bourne, Big Fish). Henry dispenses the wisdom that can only come with age throughout the movie in nuggets of purest gold; about being a man, about being in love, about life in general. He is, in nearly every respect, a father figure, although we only see him in flashback memories from Max’s younger days.
I’d never heard of Didier Bourdon, who plays the resident vigneron Francis Duflot, but he was fantastic in this role, the epitome of the irascible Frenchman who you cannot possibly win over. “I cannot work with this woman! Jamais! Never!” And in the next breath, as he stops and turns back, “I love her, she is like Henry… with a nice ass.”
The tension between the two men – one who wants to sell, and the other trying to impart a dead uncle’s wisdom – comes to a head in one of the funniest tennis matches I’ve seen on film, which starts with:
Francis Duflot: [points to his cap] “René Lacoste.”
It’s not long before we see both the winner and loser, neither of whom are young men any longer, tired, out of breath and nearly dead on their feet, congratulating each other on a great game. Voila, the tension, she is gone. I’ve seen this happen in real life; it works.
Of course there’s a woman, Fannie Chenal (Cotillard – Inception, Midnight in Paris, Contagion), who hits Max’s uber-planned and detailed life like a wrecking ball. Throw in his ravishing cousin and rival for ownership Christie Roberts (Cornish – Limitless, Sucker Punch), and he’s completely at sea, lost in a storm of his own making.
After a fabulous date at the pond in Cucuron, Max begins to debate selling the estate after all. Max’s friend and realtor Charlie (Hollander – Pirates of the Caribbean 2/3, Hanna, Valkyrie) tells him to let the ‘eau de French girl’ fade, and get back to his real life.
The ending is more than a little predict-able, but I didn’t mind, since I had so tho-roughly enjoyed the rest of the movie. The dialogue is witty, the scenery amazing, and the feel-goodness of the script was worth the feeling that I’d seen it before.
Or perhaps it was the bottle and a half of wine… either way, A Good Year earns a hearty 4 stars. Just make sure to have some good wine nearby when you watch it.
“What is it, Major Lawrence, that attracts you to the desert?”
“It’s clean. I like it because it’s clean.”
“In France, is it illegal to shag your own cousin?”
“Only if she’s ugly.”
“Thank you. Here are your tips. You’re fired.”
“There’s something you should know about me, Max.”
“I’m very, very choosy.”
“Well, I’m very, very honored.”
“I’m also very, very suspicious, I’m very, very irrational, and I have a very, very short temper. I’m also extremely jealous and slow to forgive. Just so you know.”
“Well this promises to be a lovely evening!”
“This place doesn’t suit my life.”
“No, Max; it is your life that doesn’t suit this place.”