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A Good Year is a 2006 romantic comedy film, set in London and Provence. It was directed by Ridley Scott, with an international cast including Russell Crowe, Marion Cotillard, Didier Bourdon, Abbie Cornish and Albert Finney. It is based on the 2004 novel of the same name by British author Peter Mayle.

Plot

In a prologue, the audience is introduced to young Max Skinner, who spends his summer holidays learning to appreciate the finer things in life from his Uncle Henry at his vineyard estate in Provence in southeastern Francemarker. As an adult, Max is an aggressive, hard-working Londonmarker-based trader whose schemes to make money come dangerously close to criminal activity. Upon word of his uncle's death, he learns he is the sole beneficiary of the property and travels to Provence to prepare it for a quick sale. Shortly after his arrival, he discovers that his latest financial stunt has landed him in hot water with the government and with his firm's management, necessitating his return to London later in the day. Before heading back to the airport, in order to assist his realtor with the sale, he hurriedly snaps photos of the estate, and in doing so, falls into an empty swimming pool. (He is unable to escape until Fanny Chenal, whose bicycle he ran off the road with his careless driving, turns on the water supply in retaliation.) The resulting delay causes him to miss his flight, and because he fails to report in person to management, he is suspended from work and trading activities for one week.

The week affords Max the time to ready the property for sale. But he must deal with the gruff yet dedicated winemaker, Francis Duflot, who fears that the sale of the estate will separate him from his precious vines. Duflot pays the vineyard inspector to tell Max that the soil is bad and the vines are worthless. They are surprised by the unexpected arrival of young Napa Valleymarker oenophile Christie Roberts, who is backpacking through Europe and presents herself as Henry's previously unknown illegitimate daughter looking for her long-lost father. Max fears that she might also lay claim to the estate and tries to keep her happy until she decides to leave. Worried about being usurped by his second-in-command in London (through whom Max continues to direct trades but who takes all the credit) Max intentionally gives the ambitious trader bad advice which gets him fired. Max is also enamored with the very beautiful yet entirely feisty local café owner Fanny Chenal, who is rumored to have sworn off men. He successfully woos Fanny, who leaves Max the next morning expecting Max to return to his life in London; Christie, having learned that Max intends to betray Henry's passion, leaves Provence, and Max sells the estate and returns to his life in London.

Back in London, management offers Max a choice: "money or your life" — either a discharge settlement which includes "lots of zeros" or partnership in the trading firm in which he would be "made for life". Max chooses the money and cleverly negates the sale of the estate by orchestrating through a forged letter from Henry that Christie has a valid claim on the property. He puts up his London residence for sale and returns to Provence, where Christie and Francis must reconcile their vastly different philosophies of wine production and jointly run the vineyard.

Cast



Production

French locations were filmed at Bonnieuxmarker and Gordesmarker in Vauclusemarker, Marseille Provence Airportmarker, and the rail station in Avignonmarker. London locations included Albion Riversidemarker in Batterseamarker, Broadgatemarker, the Bluebird Cafe on Kings Roadmarker in Chelseamarker, and Piccadilly Circusmarker.

Director Scott and novelist Mayle worked together in advertising and commercials thirty years ago and both are now landowners in the Luberonmarker region of Provence.

The soundtrack includes "Moi Lolita" by Alizée, "Breezin' Along with the Breeze" by Josephine Baker, "Gotta Get Up," "Jump into the Fire," and "How Can I Be Sure of You" by Harry Nilsson, "Hey Joe" by Johnny Hallyday, "Vous, qui passez sans me voir" and "J'attendrai" by Jean Sablon, "Le chant du gardian" by Tino Rossi, "Je chante" by Charles Trenet, "Old Cape Cod" by Patti Page, "Walk Right Back" by the Everly Brothers, "Boum" by Adrien Chevalier, and "Itsy Bitsy Petit Bikini" by Richard Anthony. The CD includes only 15 songs from the film; several are left out.

Box office

The film was budgeted at $35 million. It grossed $7,205,533 in Italymarker, $4,247,140 in Spainmarker, $2,573,190 in Australia and $1,896,983 in the United Kingdommarker and Republic of Irelandmarker. It took a further $7,459,300 in Canadamarker and the United Statesmarker for a total worldwide gross of $42,061,749. Although exceeding its production budget, the gross was significantly lower than was hoped. Because of this it was described by Rupert Murdoch as a "flop" in November 2006.

It has earned over $7 million in US DVD sales.

Critical reception

The film received generally negative reviews. On the review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes the film has a 25% approval rating, and the consensus describes it as "a sappy romantic comedy lacking in charm and humor".

In his review in the New York Times, Stephen Holden called it "an innocuous, feel-good movie," "a sun-dappled romantic diversion," and "a three-P movie: pleasant, pretty and predictable. One might add piddling . . . A Good Year is the movie equivalent of poring over a glossy brochure for a luxury vacation you could never afford while a roughneck salesman who imagines he has class harangues you to hurry up and make a decision about taking the tour. My advice is to resist the pitch."

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times observed, "Though A Good Year is set in French wine country, it's best described as small beer. The scenery may be attractive and the cast likewise, but something vital is missing in this all-too-leisurely film . . . [it] is one of those ever-popular movies in which impossibly rich people, clueless about what really matters, turn out to be incapable of enjoying the simple things in life . . . The fact that we know exactly what will happen to Max from the moment he appears on screen is not what's wrong with A Good Year. After all, we go to films like this precisely because the satisfaction of emotional certainty is what we're looking for. What we're not looking for is a romantic comedy made by individuals with no special feeling for the genre who stretch a half hour's worth of story to nearly two hours."

In Variety, Todd McCarthy called the film "a divertissement, an excuse for the filmmakers and cast to enjoy a couple of months in Provence and for the audience, by proxy, to spend a couple of hours there. A simple repast consisting of sometimes strained slapsticky comedy, a sweet romance and a life lesson learned, this little picnic doesn't amount to much but goes down easily enough . . . Crowe executes a lightweight change of pace with his charisma entirely intact . . . There are moments when the enchanting Cotillard resembles a Gallic, dark-haired Reese Witherspoon, and Aussie Abbie Cornish, in her first Hollywood film, continues her quick ascent with a perfect Yank accent and a nice note of observant reserve. The setting could hardly be made to look less than glorious, and production standards are up to what one expects from a Scott picture."

Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle said, "Crowe and Scott bring a lot of effort to a project that probably meant a lot to both of them, for entirely different reasons. But despite some stunning visuals and a lot of nice moments, the finished product feels like the work of an actor and director who are out of their element. It's difficult to ignore the fact that they've created a romantic comedy that has almost no romance and even less comedy . . . Scott struggles mightily with the finer points of the genre. The comedy is mostly slapstick, and the forced attempts at hilarity sometimes decline to Benny Hill depths which don't fit well with the rest of the visual tone. And the romance is almost nonexistent until the final third of the film, when Max's courtship becomes so rushed that it seems foolish even by cinematic standards."

In the St. Petersburg Times, Steve Persall rated the film B+ and added it "is a lighter choice than usual for the rugged actor and for Ridley Scott . . . A change of scenery suits them well. Yet they still bring a roguish flavor to the romantic comedy sentiments established by Peter Mayle's novel. This is a chick flick for dudes, too . . . A Good Year runs about a month too long, but it's tough to leave such a lovely place. Scott blends the don't-rush-past-love appeal of Jerry Maguire with the continental air of Under the Tuscan Sun for a robustly romantic diversion."

Jessica Reaves of the Chicago Tribune rated the film two stars out of a possible four and described it as "unbearably sweet and emotionally lifeless." She added, "Despite the occasional seductive moment, A Good Year disappoints. The film, for all its pretensions of revelatory, life-altering enlightenment, is actually about as deep as a wading pool, as substantive as cotton candy."

In the UK, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called it "a humourless cinematic slice of tourist gastro-porn," while Philip French of The Observer remarked, "I'm not in favour of veils, but I'd make an exception for Ridley Scott's A Good Year, over which one should be drawn immediately."

References

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