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"A BIGGER SPLASH"
(2016) (Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: The much-needed vacation of a famous singer and her boyfriend is interrupted when her old manager/boyfriend and his alluring daughter unexpectedly join them.
PLOT:
Marianne Lane (TILDA SWINTON) is a famous singer on vacation with her filmmaker boyfriend Paul De Smedt (MATTHIAS SCHOENAERTS) on the island of Pantelleria. Due to recent surgery on her vocal chords, she isn't supposed to speak, but that's fine by the two who simply want some rest & relaxation. That's interrupted, however, when her former manager and boyfriend, Harry Hawkes (RALPH FIENNES), arrives with his sultry daughter, Penelope (DAKOTA JOHNSON), and end up staying at the same remote villa with them, later and briefly joined by some of Harry's friends, Mireille (AURORE CLEMENT) and the much younger Sylvie (LILY McMENAMY).

Despite the romantic past between Marianne and Harry, Paul is okay with the visit as, after all, it was Harry who fixed up Paul with her after their split. Even so, Penelope -- who's apparently only just met her dad in the past year or so -- seems to have a distaste for Marianne, but an obvious interest in Paul. At the same time, Harry is obviously interested in his old flame while also possibly having an inappropriate relationship with his alluring daughter who's reportedly 22-years-old. As the days pass by, the attractions of others prove too enticing for some to pass up, leading to things none of them could see coming.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Years ago, I took a screenwriting course where the instructor explained the difference between what the studios want when it comes to scripts (and the resultant films) and the sort of storytelling critics long to see.

In short, the studios want familiarity in the belief that audiences will see something that seems similar to a previous movie they've watched, rather than something different or new. And critics, having to sit through hundreds of films each year, simply want anything that's different just to break up the monotony.

Being in the latter group at this particular time in my life, I agree with that sentiment. And while every story that could be told has already been done so, I certainly appreciate when a new approach is taken, be that with the characters, story flow, direction or what have you. Of course, that usually means foreign or so-called art house films are called on to do such heavy lifting.

Even so, what irks me more than the monotonous sameness of mainstream films are such smaller flicks where the filmmaker along with snobby critics confuse cinematic peculiarities, unevenness and even problems as profound art.

Such is the case with "A Bigger Splash," the remake of the 1969 film "La Piscine" that quite likely only some film critics and viewers have seen. The same fate could befall this movie, although some of the associated star power and rampant, equal opportunity nudity could generate some interest or at least notoriety for the flick.

As directed by Luca Guadagnino from a screenplay by David Kajganich, the film focuses on an apparent David Bowie style singer (Tilda Swinton) and her reserved boyfriend of six years (Matthias Schoenaerts) doing the rest, relaxation and sex thing on the island of Pantelleria. She's recently had surgery on her vocal cords and thus needs to give her voice a rest, while his checkered past (revealed as the story unfolds) means he'd like to keep everything low-key.

But then in flies her former manager and ex-lover (Ralph Fiennes) along with his Lolita-esque daughter (Dakota Johnson) who've decided to crash the vacation. Unlike Marianne and Paul, Harry hasn't given up his boorish, life of the party demeanor. And he quickly monopolizes the unscheduled gathering, has no problem going the full monty in the villa's pool, and makes moves on his ex. All while his daughter (initially said to be 22, but later revealed to be 17), who he's only known for a year or so, sets her sights on Paul when not acting somewhat inappropriately around dear old dad (and vice-versa).

While some will likely view it as some sort of symbolic or thematic art, Guadagnino's direction and the film's overall tone are all over the place. That gives the film an uneven feel that the cast always seems to be battling as if they're unsure what sort of pic they're in (as it lurches and stumbles between farce, erotic drama, troubled lifestyles of the rich and famous or, ultimately, an unexpectedly darker twist).

There's also a running subplot of sorts (mainly on the news in certain scenes) about the influx of immigrants on the island. That ultimately goes nowhere except in being a rather drawn out and opportunistic line of defense for the darker crime drama direction the story takes late in the third act, or maybe the filmmaker just felt the need to shoehorn in a sociopolitical statement.

All of which is too bad since there's potential in the basic storyline, as well as solid to strong performances. Swinton, as usual, creates an intriguing character, even when forced to do most of her communication via facial expressions or gesticulating. Fiennes is terrific as the cad with great stories and an obvious amoral outlook. He's fun to watch, but such a character in real life would likely elicit the same sort of "what the..?" reaction he gets from Schoenaerts' more reserved and obviously damaged character. And Johnson is good in the Lolita role, credibly playing a calculating and unpredictable young seductress.

They help give the film its moments, but overall they can't smooth out all of the unevenness. While overly verbose critics will likely heap praise on the flick, I found it to be an interesting character study housed in a flawed offering. "A Bigger Splash" will likely only be that in the art house circuit, unlikely to become a crossover hit. It rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed May 9, 2016 / Posted May 13, 2016


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