Sunday, June 05, 2016

A Bigger Splash (2016)

Film: A Bigger Splash (2016)
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently decided to have a cheeky bit of fun and see both Hockney and A Bigger Splash back-to-back.  Hockney, of course, being a documentary about one man wasn't really the type of film to really bring out the intellectual heft-it was pleasant in the sort of way that we expect early summer documentaries to be.  Occasionally brash, interesting, but never really heart-wrenching or a call-to-arms or anything of that nature.  Luca Guadagnino's latest, however, is hoping to grab your attention for the entirety of the picture and not let go.  The man who made I Am Love (which won our OVP for Best Costume design, for the curious) makes a concerted push for intellectual heft in A Bigger Splash, his much-delayed followup, and has the cast (but not always the editing skills) to make it work.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film's plot is not really integral to the story, as so much of it is reliant upon mood and feeling and conversations (whether verbal or otherwise) that explaining what is happening is not completely necessary, but I'll give it a shot.  The movie follows Marianne Lane (Swinton), a David Bowie-like rock goddess who is living with her cool younger boyfriend Paul (Schoenaerts) in Pantelleria when an ex-flame of hers, a record producer named Harry (Fiennes) arrives with his beautiful but enigmatic daughter Penelope (Johnson).  The film unfolds with them at first disrupting the glamorous celebrity couple, who are hiding low as Marianne recovers from vocal surgery, but soon old secrets start to spill out and rivalries begin to form in a sexually-intense story.

The film is not shy about sex, and the way that it drives the id's of all four of the main characters.  We learn as the film goes forward that Harry essentially traded in Marianne, obviously the love of his life but he was too bored at the time to realize it, over to Paul, whom he assumed would be a rebound but ended up being a deep connection with Marianne and they never broke up.  Hating Paul but also knowing that it's his fault that Marianne is not part of his life, he haunts the villa even if he's constantly, maniacally active.  Fiennes, who is such a spectacular actor almost all of the time, finds a grounded nature to his character that few others would have discovered-most people would have played Harry just for comedy, struggling with his demons and making them seem tragic, but Fiennes knows that they are less tragic than just some other veneer to put forward in order to grab sympathy and what he wants.  This is, after all, a man who actively pimps out a woman who may or may not be his daughter in order to get his old girlfriend back, despite her potentially being his own flesh-and-blood.

Fiennes isn't the only one who is bringing their A-game to this cast, however.  Swinton is mesmerizing, particularly when deprived of her vocal powers and quite frankly it's just a joy to see two actors so completely at the top of their respective games together in the same movie.  I love that we've now entered the phase of her career where Swinton can be celebrated as a beautiful, alien goddess and not have to dour her down in something like We Need to Talk About Kevin.  Swinton here is earthy, magnetic, and impossible to resist, which is why it's so odd when Penelope doesn't like her.  As the film progresses, you half expect Penelope to come out and be the child Marianne gave up for adoption or acknowledge the bitter hatred that she has for the world stemmed from something Marianne did, because Marianne is really awesome and awesome is kind of hard to do in an art house film, but Swinton nails it.  She's aided by Schoenaerts who is unabashedly sexy as the manic pixie dream guy with a solid amount of orgasm-inducing skill.  I love that so many of his roles, despite him being a man, are really about using his desire and power as an actor to intoxicate the audience-rarely do you find a male actor who does that so consistently.  And yes, despite her idiotically gaining a Razzy Award (she was actually pretty damn good in Fifty Shades of Grey, I'm sorry to say to the haters), Johnson is clearly a Kristen Stewart in waiting if she plays her cards right-she's stuck in a pointless franchise now, but give it time-an actress who can pull off this character's many tricky turns is doing something right.

So why the lower score?  Because the film falls apart in the third act.  I actually, after seeing this film, investigated a couple of opinion pieces regarding the movie and almost every one of them said the same thing-that the movie didn't end when it clearly was meant to end.  There is a scene late in the film (I told you there were going to be spoilers) where Paul kills Harry in what might be an accident, might be on-purpose, fight in the pool.  The film recedes up from the pool in a huge shot, and nearly goes to black.  If the film had ended there, it would have been surprisingly short, but it would have been a great look at how Harry always played to win-he ended up destroying Paul for Marianne by making him a murderer, and we would be left with Dakota Johnson playing the ultimate femme fatale, someone who lured away the loyal boyfriend to kill her father, all as part of his plan.  It's a great ending, and would have made for a superb movie, one of the best of the year.  However, the film drags on, trying to understand Penelope (seriously-Dakota Johnson's character is totally obsession worthy here), and then giving us a moment of reconciliation between Marianne and Paul, when not knowing probably would have been better.  There's nothing saving the last thirty minutes or so-it feels so tagged on that it nearly ruins a truly interesting and provocative film, one too good to put 2-stars by even if the ending drags it there.

Those were my thoughts, at least, on this very discussable movie.  If you've seen it, let's give that a shot, shall we?  What did you think of A Bigger Splash-were you hoping that it would end at the death scene as well, or did you want it to continue on forever?  When do you think Dakota Johnson will finally start getting her respect as an actor (you just know a Supporting Actress nod is going to land at some point in the near future)?  And can we have another Tilda/Ralph movie again soon please, as his history of repeating costars could pay huge dividends here?

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