November 9, 2006


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A Good Year (PG-13)
Russell Crowe lives the fantasy that every girl wants her dream man to have in A Good Year, a little film about making oodles of money and then inheriting a vineyard in the south of France.

Do men really want that? Beats me but I know women totally want a man who wants that. The whole country seems to have been artfully lit, with everything from people to grapes looking ripe and sun-dappled. I don't know that I completely believe that a man used to high-adrenaline living as a stock broker could easily give it all up for pastoral life with distant relatives and the girl of his dreams. But, wow, wouldn't it be great to be that girl? So while the movie appears to be sort of a male version of Under the Tuscan Sun, I think this creamy, rich slice of cheesecake remains a girl-friendly dish.

Max Skinner (Crowe) is a rough and tumble trader, absorbed by making money and uninterested in making friends, long-term lovers or stable relationships of any kind. He is also relatively uninterested in making wine unfortunate as he just inherited a chateau with vineyards from his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney). Henry was a jovial, beloved caretaker during Max's youth but as Max got older and jerkier, the two grew distant. Still, with no will at the time of Henry's death, Max cashes in.

And plans to cash out. He plans to immediately sell the land to tourists who will overlook some of the estate's more rustic features (the scorpions, for example, that climb in the windows if you don't leave lavender there) and take his big sack of money back to London. But first, he has to ready and sell the property. Which means going there. Which means falling in love again with the lazy culture, with the ready bottles of wine (even if most of his vineyard's juice is awful) and with Fanny Chenal (Marion Cotillard), the emotionally guarded town beauty.

It doesn't hurt that Max is also in a bit of trouble for some shady trades he made back in London and that the possibility of investigation has prompted an existential crisis. Though he still intends to sell, we can tell that every moment he spends in his sunny fields, on his genteelly crumbling tennis court, in his delightful shabby chic house is slowly convincing him to think twice about that decision.

Actually, the decision to sell might not even be his. A few days into Max's visit, American Christie (Abbie Cornish) shows up in search of Henry, who she believes was her father. Thusly, Max is faced with two moral dilemmas: does he tell his maybe-relative that she's the true heir to the estate? And is it wrong to shag your cousin?

This kind of two-pinots-in-the-bag felicity is pretty much the tone of Max's French life and we quickly begin to feel a bit drunk with him. All that sun, all that cheese, all that promise of a ridiculously good life it almost makes your head spin. The movie begins by showing Max as a man who has everything but a soul and then it gives him that in the form of a French estate. And then he has everything. In terms of struggle and character development, this is not exactly Gandhi.

But perhaps it doesn't have to be. Perhaps, like the perfectly drinkable white Bordeaux in a box I sampled at a recent wine tasting, this movie is simply smooth and a bit of fun and should not be damned for offering no complexity and giving you a slight headache from all its foolishness. C+

Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual content (though, don't worry, no cousin shagging). Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Marc Klein (from a novel of the same name by Peter Mayle), A Good Year is about two hours long and is distributed by 20th Century Fox in wide release.

Amy Diaz