A Bigger Splash

4.5 Stars

Tilda Swinton: Rock Star.

There’s the initial hook for A Bigger Splash, a breezy comedic drama set in the Mediterranean. Tilda Swinton plays a bonafide rock star. But there’s far more to the film beyond that hook, which develops into a journey through desire, anger, and mystery.

Rock star Marianne (Swinton) is on holiday with her current lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), a documentary filmmaker, after undergoing surgery on her vocal chords. The two spend their days and nights lounging on the beach, making love and partaking in mud baths. Then enters Harry (Ralph Fiennes), Marianne’s former manager/lover, who surprises Marianne with his recently-discovered daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), who looks more like a much younger love interest than his daughter. Marianne remembers Harry fondly, but Paul can only barely tolerate Harry for a number of reasons. Among them: Harry first introduced Paul to Marianne, which makes Paul wonder if Harry has any ulterior motives for his surprise appearance. Harry disrupts Marianne and Paul’s quiet holiday with his attempts to constantly be the life of the party, which includes inviting people over to Marianne and Paul’s place. Penelope, meanwhile, raises questions about her true relationship with Harry from both Marianne and Paul.

It’s almost comical that, in casting Tilda Swinton as a rock star, she’s been given the role without one thing that most rock stars need: a voice. Outside of a few whispers, Swinton largely performs through physically. Unsurprisingly, though, Swinton can speak volumes with her eyes alone.

On the opposite side of the noise spectrum is Ralph Fiennes, who’s certainly developed a flair for the comedic in the last few years, thanks to performances in The Grand Budapest Hotel and Hail, Caesar! Fiennes is a force, disrupting every scene he’s in by the sheer magnitude of his scenery-chewing. He bares himself – both literally and metaphorically – in an effort to get Marianne back. That Fiennes is able to make Harry both larger than life and painfully human is remarkable.

While Swinton and Fiennes end up demanding the most attention, they’re paired well with Schoenaerts and Johnson (who’s substantially sexier here than she was in Fifty Shades of Grey, for the record). Schoenaerts hints at a quiet depth to Paul, while Johnson suggests more in Penelope’s mind than simply stirring things up.

A Bigger Splash has its roots in the 1969 French-Italian classic La Piscine, and the film does feel a bit like a hybrid of national styles. It creates a tension in the film that’s captivating, which makes its third act twist ultimately a bit disappointing in its predictability. But the journey leading up to that twist makes for a delightfully indulgent experience, one that film lovers should enjoy.

A Bigger Splash • Rating: R (for graphic nudity, some strong sexual content, language and brief drug use) • Runtime: 124 minutes • Genre: Drama • Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tilda Swinton • Director: Luca Guadagnino • Writer: David Kajganich • Distributor: Fox Searchlight

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