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.
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.