A Bigger Splash

theTramp enjoys a relationship drama and Ralph Fiennes dancing.


Director Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash is described as a crime-drama or mystery. It isn’t, it’s a relationship drama focused on four characters, the plot of which is unlikely to inspire: Marianne (Tilda Swinton) is a famous rock star away on holiday with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) while recovering from an operation on her vocal chords that has left her unable to speak. Their seemingly idyllic break is disturbed by the arrival of Swinton’s ex producer and lover Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his new found sexpot daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). The disturbance to, and the balance of, the relationships form the basis of the action.

Two points:

  • Fiennes and Swinton are so much fun in this film. Yes, I said fun. Fantastic fun. The sort of actorly fantastic fun that means even non-fans should look this film up. They deserve to be watched and they deserved awards nods. Shame on the voting panels for overlooking them.
  • Swinton’s wardrobe is enviously fabulous. There is a white jump suit moment that made me ache with yearning. Ache. If you don’t already have crush on Swinton you will after watching this.

Swinton and Fiennes both proved they could offer fun in spades in The Grand Budapest Hotel, and an unrecognisable Swinton stepped it up further still as Amy Schumer’s irascible editor in Trainwreck. Fiennes looks set to offer up further fun in the Coen’s Hail Ceasar! later this year, But while you are waiting for that, watch this.

There is a moment in A Bigger Splash, when Fiennes dances to a Rolling Stones track. If there is an ‘actors’ moment that tops it in any film I view this year, well, it will be a good year indeed for performances. Some moments shine brighter than the film itself, firmly wedging themselves in to your consciousness and this, for me, is one of those.

But back to the film: Fiennes is an infectiously, lovably irritating, motor-mouth as Harry. Harry is a force in a room, a man who commands your attention by asking for it. By contrast, Swinton’s Marianne commands the attention that only the greatest rock stars can command. In silence she attracts everyone’s eye and judgement. Over the course of A Bigger Splash Swinton says little more than a handful of words and yet masterfully conveys yearning, sadness, weariness, desire, love and hope. The contrast of the silent / motor-mouth starring roles may seem far from subtle in the reading, but this is complex and compelling in the viewing.

I wasn’t impressed by Matthias Schoenaerts Paul; I felt he was unintentionally delivering a Ryan Gosling impression. But Johnson, as Penelope – this daughter Harry has recently met for the first time and is attempting to connect with – is worthy of note. She’s a knowing sexpot, but a confused young adult, with glimpses of an emotionally bereft child. Not bad an under-written role, suggesting she is a young actress whose career may well be worth following. A conclusion I certainly wouldn’t have drawn from Fifty Shades of Grey.

As the story unfolds we learn more about the complex relationship that exists between Marianne and her ex-lover Harry, and current lover Paul. I’m not spoiling the film by telling you that we learn that all three have reached a cross roads in life that’s leading them to assess where they stand. As irritating as he is Harry represents an embracing of life and all that it offers, just as Paul offers a retreat from it. The question is where will Marianne end up? The film provides an ending that I am sure all involved felt was a rather clever twist on how she reaches her conclusion. Sadly, as a viewer, I couldn’t help but feel that there were several narrative roads that offered something much more interesting, even if they seemed less dramatically cataclysmic.

As many a sage observer has said, endings are hard, and I can’t write off A Bigger Splash on the basis of its final twenty minutes, but I can sigh for what might have been. Which is what the film makers are most likely doing as they wonder why on earth their leads failed to make an appearance in the BAFTA and Oscar nominations this year. Much as I enjoyed Cranston’s Trumbo, it’s not a patch on Fiennes dancing Harry.

2 thoughts on “A Bigger Splash

  1. Really looking forward to this. Ralph Fiennes’ reinvention as a comic actor now he’s lost his looks is one of my favourite things of the past few years – as, now I think about it, is the emergence of Fun Tilda Swinton

  2. The reasons for Marianne’s muteness weren’t particularly obvious to me, but your reading makes a lot of sense. However, in a way it’s a shame that this is forced on her by her throat operation, rather than her being naturally on the quiet side. Also there were times when I felt her inability to speak made her seem less in control and more of a victim than someone like that would ever be.

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