Sometimes a movie doesn’t reveal itself until the final moments, and while that can sometimes that can be the result of an expertly crafted film, it’s often hard to differentiate between those and cases where nuances and foreshadowing just wasn’t present.
It’s tough to determine where A BIGGER SPLASH fits, but I tend to think it’s the latter.
Tilda Swinton glides effortlessly through the majority of the film, expressive in her scenes where throat surgery and doctors recommendation have her not speaking more than a couple words, at a whisper nonetheless. Her primary emotional conflict as we start the film is that she’s wondering whether or not her voice will ever return to the point that she might perform again. She’s a world-renowned rockstar, a female David Bowie type. Only, this is one of the areas where the movie falls a bit short. Her character doesn’t seem like a rockstar. Not when she’s in flashbacks where they’re visiting with her on tour in sold out arenas, nor during her vacation. Nothing about her feels iconic. The irony is that Dakota Johnson’s character actually calls her out for seeming a bit too domesticated for a rock star, and although I understand how it fits her character to ask a question like that, and how it works within its scene, it does ironically point out one of the major flaws of the film. Even if the filmmakers are trying to show her in a certain light, flashbacks included, the very talented Tilda Swinton didn’t capture the aura that someone like David Bowie, Steven Tyler, Elton John, Mick Jagger, Prince or countless others seem to have, in footage or still photos.
The complex character Ralph Fiennes expertly brings to the screen could have been far more impactful than the abnoxious, self-engrossed close friend we were presented. The motivations weren’t presented with the clarity and impact they deserved, nor was the friendship between he and Matthias Schoenaerts character. We’re told they were once as close as brothers, a fact that should have been revealed far earlier than it was, because it sets the lens through which we should be evaluating their interactions. Without that history between the two leading male actors in this film, their characters don’t make nearly as much sense in how they’re reacting to one another, or not reacting, as the case might be. It caused me to have to re-evaluate things once they slip the fact in, and some of the earlier scenes just don’t add up for me.
Dakota Johnson stirs the drink in this film like a stick of chocolate in a rum and coke. The idea of having her as a catalyst just added a weirdness that the film didn’t need, especially with the 3rd-act reveal. She would have been far more effective if you got the idea that she was trying to be manipulative out of some sort of resentment or anger, instead of her just seeming bored most of the time.
If there’s one thing that the film did wonderfully, it was the scenery. With the Mediterranean setting, you knew the opportunity was there, but the framing and colors put on display just added an amazing artistic feel that could have made A BIGGER SPLASH feel more like a classic.
The straightforward nature with which the events were presented did the story a huge disservice. The events in the third act could’ve been hinted at in the first act, or just straight up presented to the viewer, and then the rest of the film could’ve been a series of flashbacks, keeping the viewer guessing at either the identity of the offending individual (or individuals) or at least kept you guessing at their motivations. Looking back, I’m not surprised that the film lacked that creative edge which would’ve made it a far more impactful film. It was not very well edited, feeling choppy at times, disjointed, with much of the power drained out of flashbacks because of it. The tone of the film was very bland through the first two acts, which made the third feel forced. Had it been built more as a mystery or thriller for the entirety of its runtime, people would be lauding it right now instead of yawning at it.
Expectations going into A BIGGER SPLASH weren’t especially high, so I wouldn’t call the film a disappointment. The overall production was just not even close to what the story could have been, and in about twenty years I’d hope someone takes the opportunity to do a remake, because there’s the potential for something amazing. When it hits home video, I very well might buy a copy and edit it into how I envision it working, because the editing of the film failed.
My rating: 65 out of 100