Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Films like A Bigger Splash (opening today) remind us of just how stuffy American filmmaking can be. Although the characters in this movie speak English, this is really a European film, set in Italy, directed by an Italian director. But there is a sense of freedom here, a confidence that is not all that commonly found in state-side releases. Characters are allowed to breathe, there are no car chases, no explosions. Women and men are comfortable in their sexuality and sensuality and nudity never gets in the way of a good story. And other than needing a pool (it plays a big part in the movie), A Bigger Splash could have taken place on the stage. It is thoroughly a movie about people, and what juicy roles for those involved in the ensemble. Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) and his lover Marianne (Tilda Swinton) are on holiday in a luxurious Italian getaway. Barely a word is spoken between the two, and not just because Marianne - a very successful pop star - has lost her voice. They lay in the sun, go into town, take a leisurely walk and soak in the excess of extravagance. They have sex whenever and wherever they like. It seems a relaxing vacation.
That is, until they are visited by there extroverted, exhibitionist friend, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), who brings along a young nymphet, Penelope (Dakota Johnson), who he claims is his estranged daughter. Harry has a past with both Paul and Marianne and his sudden appearance muddles things greatly.
What a rich environment for some great performances. Fiennes probably gives the most noticeable performance, but both Swinton and Schoenaerts turn in stellar performances. Dakota Johnson is the only weak link here, who has shown that she can be sexual and voluptuous with her role in Fifty Shades of Grey, and she does a serviceable job of tapping into that suggestive innocence, but her character is the only one that doesn't feel totally fleshed out or given any added depth by her performance. It's a real shame, because the other three carve out increasingly complicated and layered characters that make the story all the more interesting the further it goes along.
But despite this movie having interesting characters and a stylish look to it, there is almost a feeling as if they didn't know where to go with the story. Some weird sub-plots about illegal immigrants and a flimsy thread dealing with alcoholism don't land all that effectively. There is a great deal of talking, which isn't all that bad, but things sort of devolve into soap opera territory as it nears its conclusion. And that's a real shame, because this was a compelling world to get hung up in for a few hours previously.
A Bigger Splash is not quite a belly-flop, but a weak third act and an under-cooked portrayal by Dakota Johnson make it fall short of reaching more profound depths. But the performances given by Ralph Fiennes, Matthew Schoenaerts and Tilda Swinton are more than enough to recommend the film as a whole, as they come across just swimmingly.
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Run Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson
Directed by Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, Melissa P, The Protagonists)
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