“A Bigger Splash” (2016) – Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton), one of the most popular singers on the planet, regularly performs in packed football stadiums, and fans recognize her wherever she travels. Thus, getting away to a remote coastal town in Italy for vacation seems like an appropriate retreat to recharge her batteries. Actually, she needs to recharge her vocal chords, and her doctor gave her strict orders to refrain from speaking, let alone singing, for a while. Well, Marianne is with her boyfriend, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), and they enjoy swimming, relaxing and lounging around naked under the warm Mediterranean sun.
Without much warning, however, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his 22 year-old daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson), decide to drop in on the happy couple and interrupt their stay of solitude. Since he is Marianne’s ex-music producer/boyfriend, Paul and she entertain the idea, but with appropriate reservations.
Director Luca Guadagnino guides this reserved picture with the potential for explosive results. Unfortunately, its potential is not quite realized. Guadagnino paints four interesting characters on a canvas of close quarters and attempts to charge up the sexual tension with taboo possibilities of mixing partners. Marianne leads an iconic music career, but Paul carries a subdued persona, and the two have recently flown through a trying period. Meanwhile, Harry, a free spirit, beams flamboyance and excitement and still carries a torch for his ex. He is the 50 year-old party boy that we all unfortunately know, who is afflicted with a sizable case arrested development and is always ready for a trip to Vegas. Whether spinning a random Rolling Stones’ record, ordering a round of drinks or dancing and jumping into the swimming pool in his birthday suit, Harry is constantly searching for a good time.
Penelope is the last ingredient in this toxic brew – complete with an aloof guise (and a probable trust fund) – and casually mentions, “I fall in love with every pretty thing.”
This combustible blend of personalities promises fireworks, but instead the narrative – through most of the 2 hour 4 minute runtime – simply trudges along like a slow walk on the beach. Now, slow walks on beach can be pleasant enough, but with Harry predictably and painfully courting Marianne and Penelope offering forbidden fruit at a long-drawn-out pace, I felt very little anxiety. Hence, the picture inadvertently lulls us into ambivalence about any probable repercussions.
Guadagnino does offer many effective flashbacks into Marianne, Harry and Paul’s history, but the three leads seem much more captivating many years ago. These peeks into the past gives us opportunities to see and hear Marianne hold conversations, sing in the studio and stand in an obscenely large rock venue, but in the present day, she can barely whisper. Quite frankly, that’s how I felt about the story: it mostly whispered. Certainly, Guadagnino is a talented filmmaker, and he does provide some compelling visuals of the beautiful Italian countryside and offers some nifty work on a winding roadway and also on an off-camera drone during an actual big splash in a swimming pool. Some impressive shots and a talented acting ensemble keep us somewhat curious, but ultimately, the uninspiring adult frolic does not hold enough intrigue for the film’s ultimate payoff.
It makes me wonder if the gorgeous locale distracted the filmmakers into taking a vacation during their working shoot, like that random guy who preoccupies himself with social media on his phone during a live rock concert. Hey, Marianne Lane supposedly delivers a killer show, but “that random guy” missed it.
Yea…so did the rest of us.
Image credits: StudioCanal, Trailer Credits: StudioCanalUK (YouTube)