Review: A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash is acted to perfection. Luca Guadagnino’s sexually charged flick is visually stunning and its script – penned by David Kajganich, based on a story by Alain Page – escapes clichés and reflects a wonderful originality. Despite the genuinely brilliant nature of this critically acclaimed drama there’s something amiss, and it’s incredibly hard to put a finger on what that might be.

Tilda Swinton (one of the best actresses of her generation) stars as rock star Marianne Lane. Vacationing in Sicily with troubled boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), they are joined by the outrageous Harry (Ralph Fiennes clearly had an absolute ball in this role) and promiscuous daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). The small ensemble is phenomenal but Schoenaerts struggles alongside Fiennes in a subdued role that doesn’t allow him to shine amongst a cast of acting heavyweights. Johnson is an unexpected star, showing herself to be a young actress of such sheer talent that she will surely go on to bigger and better things than the truly absurd Fifty Shades of Grey franchise.

Dakota Johnson in A Bigger Splash

Dakota Johnson in A Bigger Splash

Guadagnino directs with a sharp eye, demonstrating his artistry early on through snappy camera direction and set pieces reminiscent of Woody Allen. The film is sexy and boisterous with a sun-drenched visage that masterfully deceives its audience, resulting in a finale that is tinged in unexpected darkness. Its cinematography is a triumph and Yorick Le Saux’s photography truly rouses the senses while the enviable costume design further propels the film into stunning territory.

A Bigger Splash questions the price of fame while exploring the boundaries (and burdens) that come with intimate relationships, whether that be father/daughter or boyfriend/girlfriend and this it does truly successfully. Cracks in the plot begin with the unlikeable characterisation of the majority of those seen on-screen. Yes, Marianne is a tour-de-force of a protagonist and Swinton is a gem as always, but Schoenaerts’ Paul is weak and easily forgettable while Harry‘s overbearing nature loses effect early on and the escalation of his behaviour becomes meaningless. Each character holds secrets and these are much beyond having slept with each other. Alcoholism, drug addiction, underage sex, suicide; Alain Page’s story unabashedly explores these themes but they are thrown at the audience with such an eager force that the twists and turns of the plot lose effect.

It’s certainly flawed but A Bigger Splash is lavish filmmaking with a stellar ensemble that boasts some of the best the big screen has to offer. Sophisticated and gorgeous to look at, Guadagnino’s layered flick is a treat on the eyes despite never fully delivering an engaging premise.

Fifty Shades of Grey, review

Two thoughts occurred to me while watching Fifty Shades of Grey. One; do people really find this stuff sexy? Two; what a cringe fest – not the most articulate of definitions I know but the film doesn’t exactly inspire intelligence. It’s certainly not all bad but won’t be winning film of the year award any time soon – and what genre does Taylor-Wood’s film even fit into? Romantic drama? Maybe. Torture porn? Could be. The truth is, despite the junctures of genuine romance (which there are a few) the film is almost promoting abusive relationships. And I’m not sure that’s something I’m okay with (in fact I know its not). Supposedly a film for women, in many respects it actually objectifies them. Not cool E. L. James. Not cool.

In no way is Fifty Shades‘ deliberately coming across as a negative piece but it certainly promotes unhealthy and objectifying relationships throughout. For many it will just be a bit of a laugh; something to make jokes about. But the truth is, this is a poorly written and cliched film that is too skimpy on the details to truly be classed as romance and way too intrusive when it comes to degrading sex. I’m not exactly a feminist but come on, this is poor. The whole plot is pretty simple, too. Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) – an English Lit student – interviews billionaire businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), although its never fully explained how he has attained his wealth. After an intense first meeting the pair quickly fall in ‘love’ and thus what ensues is a lot of deliberating on Ana‘s part about whether to become Grey‘s submissive. That’s pretty much it. Oh, and Rita Ora turns up as Marcia Gay-Harden’s daughter.

jamie dornan and dakota johnson in a promotional steele for fifty shades'

jamie dornan and dakota johnson in a promotional steele for fifty shades’

The biggest problem is Dornan as an actor portraying Grey. Its the whole sadist man-whore with a personality that resembles a puddle that is challenging, for Dornan has proved his validity in Hollywood with previous projects but I think anyone would struggle with conveying a puddle (going off track a bit here). With little in the way of real charm or charisma Dornan gets lost at sea and its Johnson who takes charge throughout (ironic really). Taylor-Wood and screenwriter Kelly Marcel have been sure to add asides of wit as not to appear to be taking themselves too seriously with this project and it definitely comes as a light relief, for certain scenes do spark with legitimate humour. Putting aside the whole sex theme thing for a moment, as a film away from these scenes Fifty Shades‘ is sloppy and really rather dull. Together there is definite chemistry between the two leads but if you asked what else happens in this 125 minute feature apart from the sex you would be hard-pressed to find someone with an answer.

It’s mildly entertaining fare with a better soundtrack and an even better lead but this isnt Taylor-Wood at her best – you just need to watch Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy to see that. Despite it’s failings, Fifty Shades of Grey has quickly become a box-office smash hit so it must be doing something right. That something just isn’t class.