MOVIE: A Good Year (2007)

I wasn’t sure about this movie, to be honest. Reviews I’d read of it were pretty mixed (I remember one reviewer describing it as being a “3-P” movie — pleasant, pretty, and predictable), but I was still kind of intrigued by the concept. I’ve read and enjoyed many of Peter Mayles’s non-fiction books about his experiences in the countrysides of France, and was interested in seeing what he did with fiction. And though I wasn’t sure how I’d do with a romantic comedy — those can be pretty hit or miss for me — I ended up enjoying the movie overall quite a bit.

It’s about a middle-aged man, Max (Russell Crowe), who is some sort of banking titan in London, perpetually busy and completely focused on money. When he gets word that his once-beloved Uncle Henry has died, he’s thrown for a bit of a loop, but primarily seems annoyed he’s got to leave his job for a couple of days to go down to France and deal with Henry’s estate. Max was extremely close to Henry when he was a child (this we learn through flashbacks, in which Young Max is played by the always-awesome Freddie Highmore), but hasn’t spoken to him in 20 years. As Max got older, his values shifted in a direction that just didn’t work for Henry, and the two eventually lost touch.

Max soon learns that Henry left no will, which means, as his uncle’s only kin, Max has just inherited his enormous house and the vineyard that goes along with it. He immediately decides to try to sell it all so he can take the money and run. But his plan is foiled when he gets to the farm house and finds it’s a shabby disaster. “Hey, at least the wine’s good, right? That’s worth something,” he says to himself. And then he tries a bottle and discovers it’s all but undrinkable. Crap!

As Max begins trying to tidy the place up and figure out a way to sell a vineyard that makes crappy wine, he starts flashing back to the happy times he spent with Henry as a child. The more the memories return, the more Max begins to fall in love with the place all over again. But things get shaken up when a young American girl shows up and announces that she’s Henry’s illegitimate daughter. Since this means SHE’S really Henry’s next of kin, Max attempts to keep her happy enough not to ask any questions. He encourages her to crash at the house for a while, to try to get to know Henry through his land, all the while worried that at any moment, she’ll realize all the property is actually hers and he’ll be out the whole shebang.

Meanwhile, Max has met a local French woman, and soon finds he can’t stop thinking about her. Though she mostly rolls her eyes at his attempts to woo her, writing him off as an arrogant Brit who thinks of nothing but how much more wealth he can accumulate, the quiet joys of the French countryside are gradually having a positive effect on Max’s personality. Eventually, he comes to realize he doesn’t want to go back to the frenetic world of London — instead, he wants to settle down at Uncle Henry’s, get married, have kids, and enjoy a simpler life in a simpler place.

While this movie IS actually as cheesy and predictable as I just made it sound, at the same time, it’s also a sincerely funny, sweet, and extremely good-looking movie (gorgeous scenery and colors — worth watching just for the visuals, in my opinion).

The one downside to the whole movie is, surprisingly enough, Russell Crowe himself. He’s just not romantic comedy material, no matter how hard he tries. I never found his charm authentic — even though we’re supposed to recognize he’s undergoing a massive personality overhaul, I never stopped feeling like he was acting, so I couldn’t relax into his character at all.

In any case, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie, despite Crowe’s awkwardness, and it’s always fun to see Freddie Highmore, who I’ve loved since Finding Neverland, as well as the great Albert Finney. I’m ranking it at number 4 out of the 9 we watched on my vacation — not too shabby!

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: Romantic comedy
Cast: Russell Crowe, Freddie Highmore, Abbie Cornish, Albert Finney

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