In films such as A GOOD YEAR, there is never any doubt about how things will end. There’s precious little doubt about the plot arc that will lead to that ending. In fact, the only reason to see a film such as A GOOD YEAR is the charm of the main character to whom all this unsurprising stuff will happen. Someone whose charm was as effortless as it was graceful, say, Cary Grant, who would have been perfect. Alas, it is the antithesis to Grant who was cast. That would be Russell Crowe as the workaholic about to find out he’s on the wrong path, and the best way to sum him up is shockingly lacking in anything resembling charm. There is not even a charismatic sort of anti-charm at work here. Worse, he’s not only not charming, he’s all too obviously suffering from the delusion that he is.
Loosely based on the book by Peter Mayle, this is the tale of Max Skinner, a high-powered, embarrassingly wealthy bond trader whose only pleasure in life is making even more money. Actually, there is one other, and that’s making even more money in ways that tick people off while skirting the law but not morality. After what may be the crowning achievement of his dubious career, he learns that his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) has died without a will, meaning that Max, as his only living relative, has inherited the French chateau and vineyards where he spent his childhood. That childhood is seen in flashbacks as Max makes a whirlwind visit to France to sign the papers that will let him sell the property and get back to his shallow life in London. Naturally, fate conspires to keep him there longer, and as the days stretch out, unexpected twists, the palpable presence of his uncle, and, of course, a parade of toothsome females, start to change Max’s perspective on life and the pursuit of happiness.
Director Ridley Scott may have a way with black humor, and with stark drama that delves into the darker side of the human condition, but when it comes to light comedy, he hasn’t got a clue. Conspiring here with Crowe, the sweetness is absent, and the comedy is puerile, when it’s present at all. Plus contrasting Finney, who plays the old roué to the hilt despite the obstacles, such as dialogue that is a painful study in banality, with Crowe, who’s idea of adorable is to talk with his mouth full of cookies or to dribble a ripe tomato on his shirt, only throws the latter’s shortcomings into even higher relief.
There are two things of note here that save the film from being a complete waste of time. One is the lovely Provencal countryside, photographed with a rich and golden lushness. The other is Tom Hollander as Max’s best pal, Charlie. His delivery in the usually thankless role of best friend is as dry as a perfectly made martini, making him the only thing that even remotely approaches entertaining in the entire two-hours of running time.
Between Crowe’s mugging for the camera, ogling every female in the film, and otherwise amusing himself at the expense of the audience, A GOOD YEAR really does seem to last almost that long. As an experiment in the illusory nature of the construct of time, it might have some value for someone somewhere, but not an audience, not anywhere.