Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Good Year (2006)

This is my second shot at watching A Good Year on a Delta flight. The first one was canceled and saw about 30 minutes of it. The second time around I can actually blog it with my computer while I’m watching it. I've recently had a powerful urge to take my laptop to the movie theatre when I go because I always find myself thinking during the film and I can’t record my thoughts at the time. I realize that would be bad form and since I’m a bit of a people pleaser I haven’t done it.

At first look this film appears to be similar to other films about men who have aged but not grown up (e.g. About a Boy, Jerry Maguire, In Good Company). This one doesn't seem to be marketed to women, which is a bonus, and it contains the most important feature of any story about a man achieving maturity: a wise, elder/mentor.

When I initially saw previews for it I wasn't interested. Then on the plane I saw that Albert Finney portrays the Elder/Mentor and I was all in. Finney has ripened like the vintage implied in the title of this film. His august voice and formidable presence give him the appearance of an aged titan, deploying his full powers (ok, that was a little over the top but I love vocabulary). He was outstanding in his portrayal of John Newton in Amazing Grace and I’d watch him in anything at this point.

As it turns out the film is good but not great. It brims with clever dialogue and has several interesting plot twists. It’s a bit muddled however, part mystery, part romance, part meaning of life tale. It raises many of the right questions about life but the answers were a bit convenient.

The story revolves around a successful British stock trader Max whose life amounts to money made at the all costs. The pivotal question of the film is stated openly in one of the final scenes, “your money or your life?” This question reminded me of the Sabbath film in the 10 part cycle of films on the Ten Commandments. Both films raise the issue of whether there can be meaning without rest. I read the other day that Quantum Theory proves that time is an illusion that keeps us from experiencing everything all at once. Maybe God invented time to give us experience and the Sabbath to give us meaning. Max is left the French estate of his deceased uncle and remembers his boyhood experiences in this very estate of rest, fellowship and wonder. Being thrust again into the smells, sights, sounds and most of all tastes of this enchanted vineyard suddenly reminds Max of what life was like before money, power and the work that produces it became the insatiable idol of his devotion. Max’s character is very similar to The Family Man hysterically portrayed by Nicolas Cage. Both films challenge the religion of greed and power but A Good Year focuses more on rest than the other films focus on relationship. Both are notable in that they cut against the grain of usual Hollywood fare and mores. Which is why I enjoyed both (full disclosure: I've been married 16 years and have 3 children).

The greatest shortcoming of A Good Year is its end at the beginning. Max decides to begin his year of Jubilee but it looks a bit like a pendulum swing from workaholic to permanent vacation. And there is no inkling of the cycles and labors of long term maturity save for the grapes. It is ironic that wine making in the film looks more like marriage in reality (with constant care, labor and patience), while marriage in the film is something so beyond the realm of possibility that it dare not be uttered or even implied. This makes the film shallow, though a good first step into the pool. We don’t see any future steps so it is left to the viewer to guess whether Max has taken his first step into deepening maturity or a splash in a wading pool; fun and refreshing but a diversion only. Would that Max and all who inhabit his estate would see marriage as a vineyard worth pouring a lifetime into. God knows children can be the bitter or mature fruit of these labors. Max’s own adulthood is an outworking of his Uncle’s poor example and he says so himself. The Family Man portrays mature manhood over time and is therefore a more compelling tale. I hope that the Max’s of the world will pursue covenant faithfulness beyond a good year.

My Rating: Rentable

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