For those of you that saw the best movie of 2015 — Ex Machina — you’ll remember how great Oscar Isaac’s dance scene was. Well, Ralph Fiennes has a dance scene in this to the Rolling Stones hit “Emotional Rescue” that is nearly as good. In fact, Fiennes record producer/blowhard character Paul steals every scene he’s in and is entertaining to watch. Yet it’s also problematic, because you wonder why Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) would’ve spent six years of her life with him, or why she’d even want him around now. And if he’s there to win her back, why is he acting like such a jerk? Surely he’s smart enough to realize he’d have to up his game and charm her a bit more than just bragging about all his accomplishments in the music industry (especially since they’re stories she knows).
Marianne was enjoying the idyllic surroundings of the Italian island of Pantelleria with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), while recovering from throat surgery that could end her career. She’s a huge rock star (who for some reason dresses exactly like David Bowie on stage), and her boyfriend is a photographer/documentary filmmaker.
When Harry (Ralph Fiennes) shows up uninvited, he also brings Penelope (Dakota Johnson), a daughter he just found out he had. They have a relationship that might make you think of Papa John Phillips (Mamas & Papas).
The characters are all one-dimensional, and all annoying. You wouldn’t want to spend an hour with any of them.
Swinton seems miscast (and I think she’s one of the best actresses working today). I think a more interesting approach would’ve been to not have her say a word the entire movie. In the scenes in which she isn’t speaking, her gestures and facial expressions work perfectly. They should’ve kept with that instead of having her whisper.
This is the first performance by Matthias I haven’t cared for. It’s a bit bland. The way it’s written, you never feel for him the way you should. He keeps being told that his girlfriend was “given to him” by Paul, and he just looks down.
Dakota Johnson’s slutty Lolita character is so annoying and angst-ridden, when we finally see her nude, we don’t care (side note: every actor in this is nude, and often).
The worst part of this movie is that none of the characters seem to use common sense. You don’t buy any of the scenarios that are taking place, which is a shame. Director Luca Guadagrino, who did the overrated I am Love (also starring Tilda Swinton, in an amazing role), frames shots beautifully. The scripts (this one penned by David Kajganich) just need to be better (this is loosely based on a 1969 picture La Piscine).
There’s one scene where Paul talks about working with the Rolling Stones. We hear a few Stones songs, one character wears a Stones shirt, and there’s also talk about their founder Brian Jones. In the direction the story goes, you think more about Jones (if you know his story). Guadagnino seemed so infatuated with the band, you wonder why he didn’t name the character Marianne Faithfull instead of Marianne Lane.
The movie is derivative, and not nearly as provocative as the filmmakers think it is. Also, the tonal shifts are handled horribly.
It gets half a star more for a great soundtrack that includes Captain Beefheart, Antonio Carlos Jobim, St. Vincent, Harry Nilsson, and of course, a few rare tunes from the Stones.
1 ½ stars out of 5.