REVIEW: A Bigger Splash

22 05 2016

ABS_1Sheet_27x40_MECH_03.04.16_FIN11.indd“Interesting.” It’s the catch-all phrase for critics and reviewers, simultaneously meaning everything and nothing.

The word is often used in place of legitimate commentary, an adjective appended to an observation meant to prove the writer has two eyes but not two minutes to unpack the greater meaning of something. It’s a judgment with no value system to back it up.

When used before a comma and a negating conjunction, the word grants faint acknowledgement to what others might perceive as a strength – only to obliterate that argument to shreds.

Now, having said all that, “A Bigger Splash” is ever an interesting movie. The term here is not applied liberally or lazily. The entire film, from David Kajganich’s script to Luca Guadagnino’s direction, falls perfectly into the realm of the “interesting.” They play with stock melodramatic character types, the exotic European travel subgenre and plot developments both predictable and borderline outlandish. Their slight revisions draw attention and intrigue, sure, but they never come close to shock and awe.

It’s just … interesting. Enough to justify the retelling of a familiar type of erotic quadrangle – and expend the efforts of four in-demand actors to do so. Enough to cohere the romance, the suspense, the quiet political backdrop and the behind-the-scenes of rock ‘n’ roll – albeit not without some creaky tonal swings. Enough to draw out engagement and entertainment. Just maybe not enough to drive anything home.

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21 06 2010

Back in in November 2009, I partook in several events at the inaugural Houston Cinematic Arts Festival.  As part of the festivities, they brought in Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton to screen her latest movie.  It was so secretive that they only told us the movie’s name in the minutes before they rolled film.  I sat in the front row, even making eye contact once with Swinton and a few times (rather uncomfortably) with the movie’s director, Luca Guadagnino, who also came along for the ride.

Unfortunately, what was to follow this rush of euphoria from being inches away from an illustrious Oscar winner and all of her glory had a completely different feel – the feel of intense disappointment.  Since they didn’t give us any inkling of a clue what the movie would be like, I didn’t know what to expect.  I guess I was anticipating something similar to “Michael Clayton,” the movie that won her Hollywood’s biggest prize.  Usually actors tend to stray towards the roles that win them the most recogntion, but “I Am Love,” the movie that I saw, was about as far away from Hollywood values as humanly possible.  Gone are her days as a “Hollywood spy,” she claims; it’s back to her European roots.

In the discussion session that followed the movie, Swinton took a quote from Hitchcock to describe the style and feel of the movie: “Let the dialogue set the mood and let the pictures tell the story.”  This philosophy of filmmaking is the polar opposite of those that drive “Iron Man 2” and “Sex and the City 2” into the 30-screen theaters.  It’s what brings that niche, art-house crowd to the small theaters that show independent films.  In essence, Swinton’s philosophy is against the basic principles that most Americans hold dear when they go to the movies.  They want to be engaged by the story, not by watching bees pollinate flowers (an image Guadagnino seems to particularly love).

I’m not claiming “I Am Love” to be bringing about some sort of cinematic apocalypse, nor am I claiming it to be as anti-American as hating apple pie and Uncle Sam.  It’s not threatening our country like terrorism or the swine flu.  It’s not going to have any lasting impact because it’s simply not good enough to do anything meaningful, so fear not all of you who were preparing for some sort of an assault on American values.

I went with a friend of mine who is very well-versed in all things film (if you don’t believe me, I’ll flash his acceptance to NYU’s film school as credentials), and by the first hour, he grabbed a piece of paper and began scribbling.  A minute later, he thrust it in my face and I read: “QUESTIONS FOR TILDA: Wait, remind me why I give a s**t about these characters again?”  He summed up “I Am Love” better than I ever could with that one sentence.  It’s a prolonged exercise of boring futility, akin to watching a dying animal slowly breathe its last … for two hours.

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