Reader, where do I begin? I’m still reeling over the sheer awfulness of Luca Guadagnino’s mediation on ex-lovers, gender politics, and something vaguely resembling a romance. Remember a little-known playwright called William Shakespeare? Him. Well, he basically wrote the book on partner-swapping in his comedies and did so much better. Even Woody Allen has managed to produce interesting reflections on the nature of relationships between men and women and the consequences they engender. This, on the other hand . . .
The trailer promises and delivers nothing that it winks at the audience it will deliver. From the opening shot of Tilda Swinton, a rock star reflecting on stage in what seems David Bowie drag, followed by her and Matthias Schoenaerts laying on the beach as they get a call from Ralph Fiennes who is popping for a visit (and you see a shadow of a plane about to land as to drive the point home), to an awkward sequence where the twosome get introduced to Fiennes’ daughter in the film played by Dakota Johnson, you get a general idea that perhaps this will be something screwball-ish, rather flighty, with misunderstandings left and right and perhaps a couple of sex scenes along the way for good measure. I mean, they are in a secluded Italian island in the middle of a vacation, might as well make the best of it and pretend nothing ever happened, right?
Wrong. From the moment Fiennes enters the picture, it’s as if he had in mind he had to ham it up to almost extreme lengths to make his older stud-character register. Reader, it’s painful. The harakiri would have been an act of mercy. Seeing Fiennes, still remarkably fit, make a fool of himself at every turn and inhabit a character who is deluded as to the extent he relates to the others is just torture. Consider it an act of an old peacock macho-ing it up in an extended mating dance that clearly provokes some quiet seething from Schoenaerts who takes a secondary seat and inexplicably allows Fiennes to take center stage as if it were better that way. Meanwhile, Swinton, who’s rock star persona in the movie is recovering from a throat operation, can’t speak but in whispers, and even that is an effort. All she can do is react in various degrees of passivity while both men circle each other, each trying to claim their ground, neither backing up.
And Dakota Johnson? She’s merely skin decoration. She gets in one or two lines pregnant with innuendo, but that’s all her character is: a tease. Guadagnino plays her like a card held very close to his chest, and some late-story revelations don’t really do much more than cement how unnecessary her character truly is to the story, but to supply a motive for a completely out of the blue catharsis that . . . well. You’d have to see this mess to see where I’m getting at.
A Bigger Splash boasts an inexplicable title that narrates a story that doesn’t seem to have any real direction other than to force some events to come together and perhaps shed light on the consequences of giving into temptation. I wish that somehow some narration choices would have been less indulgent. Guadagnino’s film had the potential to play with the original material it’s based on — Jacques Deray’s La Piscine. Tragically it all but dissipates any sense of tension in lieu of lingering shots of beach, scenery, food preparing, snakes, Fiennes diving into the pool, Fiennes dancing, Fiennes basically chewing sccenery, which makes this movie almost insufferable. At least Schoenaerts boasts some incredible pectorals. That at least prevented me from stabbing my eyes out.