Thursday, November 02, 2006

Crowe makes 'Good'

A wealthy playboy, a beautiful chateau, a provencal French setting – what more could you ask for? A glass of Merlot perhaps?

At a pre-screening of “A Good Year,” that’s exactly what viewers got. Hosted by Women & Wine in partnership with 20th Century Fox, screening attendees were treated to a glass on the house, perfectly paired with the forthcoming romantic comedy.

Based on the novel by Peter Mayle, “A Good Year” is the story of an enterprising day trader, Max Skinner (Russell Crowe), who unwittingly inherits a chateau and vineyard in France when his uncle Henry passes away.

While Max typically resides and schemes in London, he takes a break from making enemies on the trading floor to pay a visit to his new chateau and see how much money can be made from its sale. Clearly sentimental value can be sold for a couple million.

The only thing standing between Max and his money is Duflow, Uncle Henry’s trusted vine-keeper and maker of the chateau’s terrible wine. Oh, and Uncle Henry’s illegitimate daughter from California, Christie Roberts (Abbie Cornish). Did he forget to mention that?

While Max is trying to figure out how he can squeeze the most out of the chateau while keeping it out of the others’ hands, he inadvertently encounters French vision Fanny Chenal (Marion Cotillard). And by “encounters,” I mean, nearly runs over with his car. Ah, romance.

Directed by Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”), “A Good Year,” is really a very delightful film. The plot is lighthearted, the romance smooth, and the characters quirky. While Max provides the bold flavor of the piece, Duflow’s wife (Isabelle Candelier) gives it a hint of spice as a charming oddball, and Max’s personal assistant, Gemma (Archie Panjabi), is a palate cleanser to Max’s pompous self-involvement.

The only sour note is Abbie Cornish’s portrayal of Max’s American cousin, Christie, as Cornish’s acting chops have yet to ripen (much like Charlize Theron in her early days.)

“A Good Year” succeeds because it stays light. The film never gets bogged down in melodrama and balances Max’s flashbacks to his youth (where his is played by “Finding Neverland” star Freddie Highmore and his uncle played by Albert Finney) very nicely. While we slowly see Max reveal his ruthless knave’s sensitive side, we’re taken on an enjoyable journey that offers an undertone of romance and the unmistakable flavor of nostalgia. I’ll drink to that.

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