A small breath of fresh air

Rated 3.0

A Good Year drifts slowly but gracefully, and sometimes even comically, around wine (it opens “a few vintages ago"), French scenery and beautiful women. The newest from Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe embraces the calm of the French countryside—a far cry from their previous outing, Gladiator.

The ultimately sweet story follows a jerk of a London bond trader, Max (Crowe), who is in it all for the money. Since he stopped visiting his uncle Henry (Albert Finney) at his chateau in Provence over a decade ago, it appears Max has lost sight of what’s important. So when he learns of his uncle’s death—and his inheritance of the chateau and its surrounding vineyards—it gives Max a chance to slow down a little.

He returns to the site of many a fond childhood memory to take stock of his new assets and get them ready to sell. The house is nice, but needs some work. The wine is terrible, but the vineyard caretaker tries to pressure Max into keeping the place. And two beautiful women catch his eye. One is Napa wine-brat Christie Roberts, who travels to Provence to find Henry, who she claims is her biological father (throwing a crick in Max’s inheritance plans). The other is the exotic Fanny Chenal, owner of a local café.

A series of events conspire to keep Max away from London, giving him a chance to drink plenty of wine and re-evaluate his lifestyle. It seems he misses the slow-paced country life more than he remembered.

The plot, overall, is predictable, but the movie doesn’t aim at suspense or surprise. So, instead of focusing on what is going to happen next, you can sit calmly back, enjoy the scenery, and see how the story unfolds, in a lightly dramatic and humorous way.

The comedy is right on in some scenes (notably involving Max and a swimming pool); in others, it seems to be thrown in randomly and in spurts. But it’s charming, really, the way Scott shies away from the action-oriented, violent and harsh styles he’s been known for (Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven), even if he doesn’t quite get a handle on how to blend comedy and drama.

A Good Year isn’t going to win any Oscars. In fact, Crowe almost underplays his role, giving equal strength to his female costars—which is fine, because they’re quite good. And it might not attract quite the audience most Crowe movies do—there are some subtitles, and the film feels more French than what we’re used to (which is really quite refreshing).

In the end, all the pieces don’t fit perfectly, but the result is still a sweet, honest, no-frills story of self-discovery. It might even be enough to make you want to take a trip to the country … and stay a while.