What Makes “A Bigger Splash”?
Here’s all I knew about the new movie A Bigger Splash as I walked in: It stars Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson — three actors whose work I have enjoyed sporadically; it has an 88 percent positive score from critics on Rotten Tomatoes; and it’s rated R for “graphic nudity, some strong sexual content, language and brief drug use.” Sold!
And here’s what I was thinking as I walked out: Why was that movie called A Bigger Splash? Oh, right, because what makes a bigger splash? A HUGE PIECE OF SHIT!
And that’s what this movie is. Let me summarize the first 90 minutes of this two-hour-plus slooze (a word I just made up combining slog and snooze): ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NOTHING! Okay, that’s not entirely fair: Ralph Fiennes arrives in Italy with his daughter (Dakota Johnson) in tow to visit his ex-lover (Tilda Swinton), a rock star who’s lost her voice, and her boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts), a younger, music-industry type with whom Fiennes’ character set her up.
There’s a lot of beautiful Italian travelogue-like scenery and needlessly artsy-fartsy shots of water (hence the title?) from director Luca Guadagnino, but you basically sit there wondering: Okay, when are Fiennes and Swinton going to fuck? And when are Johnson and Schoenaerts going to fuck? And is Fiennes fucking Johnson, because they’re way too affectionate with each other? And is Johnson really his daughter?
In the meantime there’s an incredibly heavy-handed subplot about Syrian refugees arriving in Italy — you see, they’re really suffering compared to the shallow problems of these rich twits! — and a scene in which Fiennes and Swinton learn to make fresh ricotta. I shit you not.
Ninety minutes in, I turned to my friend and fellow former Cranky Guy Bret Watson and said, “If Dakota Johnson doesn’t get naked in this next scene, I’m walking out.” At which point, of course, Johnson got naked, so we stayed. Here’s the thing, though: I loved Johnson’s charming insouciance on the way-too-short-lived Fox sitcom Ben and Kate, but she’s been terrible in everything else since, including Fifty Shades of Grey and How to Be Single. It’s like she was suddenly possessed by the awful-acting spirit of her mother, Melanie Griffith.
Schoenaerts is a non-entity, and while Swinton and Fiennes give skillfully showy performances — he dances around like a maniac to the Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” and she must perform most of her part silently or in a hoarse whisper — their work is a bit too revealing. As Bret said to me, “I’ve seen way too much of Voldemort’s penis.” Which raises the question: How much would be the right amount of Voldemort’s penis to see?
In any case, as soon as the movie starts to get interesting (sex and murder are involved), it stops getting interesting again and goes back to being pretentious and dull. Schoenaerts’ character is revealed to have attempted suicide, and I wished he had succeeded. Or I had, for that matter. But what I really wished is that A Bigger Splash had taken its title literally and suddenly turned into a sequel to Ron Howard’s Splash. Where’s Darryl Hannah’s mermaid when you need her?