Hot Take: Every time A Bigger Splash feels like it’s going to go too far, it veers back on the path to a very interesting, artsy, adult erotic thriller. Very out of place for a summer release.
A Bigger Splash isn’t your typical film. In the first five minutes of this erotic, sensual, complicated mess, you realize this isn’t going to be a popcorn flick. Despite it’s indulgence, stylistic spectacle and beautiful backdrop, there’s a gritty, adult tale underneath.
Here’s the gist of the tale: Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton), a rock star with a David Bowie look and fame, goes off the grid with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) to recover from major throat surgery that leaves her silenced. The pair travel to Pantelleria — an island near Sicily — where they lounge, swim, take mudbaths, make out and make love. It’s a hedonistic paradise.
Everything changes when Harry (Ralph Fiennes) arrives. Harry is Marianne’s record producer and ex-lover who is responsible for introducing Marianne to Paul. He’s brash, immoderate and oblivious. He’s also traveling with his beautiful daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Harry invades Marianne and Paul’s retreat and the pair put them up in their beautiful escape.
To give away anything that happens beyond that point would be too much of a spoiler if one has any interest in seeing this picturesque, stylistic tale of a very adult tale. A Bigger Splash has all of the earmarks of a trashy erotic novel yet it’s so beautifully shot and brilliantly acted to call it trash would be unfair. It’s actually a loose remake of La Piscine (The Swimming Pool), a 1969 French thriller, but is updated with 21st century themes as Lane’s celebrity — once it’s advertised by Harry’s insistence to use her fame to get them a table at a sold-out hillside dinner location (because it’s unfair to call a bunch of tables on the side of a hill a restaurant) — plays a minor role in the plot.
As Harry, Fiennes is brilliant. The eccentric ex-lover of Marianne thrusts himself into Marianne and Paul’s private time where the pair tolerate his presence. It’s obvious they owe him a debt of gratitude for most would send Harry packing after the first night. The scene where Fiennes dances excessively to The Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” while telling the story of how he produced it is one of the best scenes of the year. Fiennes who is frequently incredible on screen is particularly delectable here.
This isn’t a foursome you’d want to spend a lot of time with outside of watching from afar as friction builds, tempers flair and sexual tension mounts. It’s complex yet simple and not always easy to watch. There are occasional moments where you might even want to bail which makes you wonder why it takes so long for any of the four characters prominently displayed to even ponder a split. A Bigger Splash isn’t for everyone and if you’re not a fan of artsy films with a penchant for nudity (we’re on a desolate island in the middle of the Mediterranean, after all), this tale may grate on your nerves rather than titillate your intellect.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The Soundtrack
The musical choices are fitting and give the film an unusual heartbeat. It may skip a beat here and there with some of the instrumental offerings but Harry Nilsson, St. Vincent and a few rare tracks from The Rolling Stones highlight the soundtrack and balance out the aural vibe.
- Ralph Fiennes
This is one of the strongest performances of the year and if the Academy can remember back to May, Fiennes could receive a best supporting actor nod for his part. It’s never worth counting on the Academy to have a memory that long though.
- Dakota Johnson
While barely mentioned above, Johnson continues to surprise me as I expect to be annoyed by her mere presence on the screen. At this point, after this and How to Be Single, I’m going to have to stop holding 50 Shades of Grey against her.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Sometimes It Overindulges
Watching A Bigger Splash is like watching a pot start to boil over. As the bubbles rise, you hurry to turn down the flame and listen for the boiling water to pour out onto the stove. For me, the boiling never quite reaches a point where A Bigger Splash loses anything but for some it might go too far.
- Tilda Swinton
Of the four, Swinton’s turn as Lane is the weakest. It’s not particularly bad but playing someone who rarely talks adds some particular challenges to both the performer and the audience. Unfortunately, Swinton’s often blank canvas left me wondering what she was thinking. Even with the assistance of a few flashbacks, it was hard to discern at times.