Adult fun in the sun and tanning on a remote Italian island. Who wouldn’t want that? But Luca Guadagnino’s “A Bigger Splash” is a lot more than a vacation film. There’s a lot of frolicking around naked, swimming, savoring sensual moments (of which there are a lot, and in many shapes and forms), but the film isn’t your typical beach film where there’s nothing happening. In fact, “A Bigger Splash” is built on the layering of several characters and unspoken words in scene after scene. The film strikes a balance between developing relationships and being a surprising, and somewhat twisted, take on romantic relationships, letting go, and the tension that mounts until something snaps.
Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is vacationing with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) on a remote Italian island. Marianne is a singer and has just had vocal chord surgery, limiting her speaking to silence and very low rasps. They’re gloriously lounging around, enjoying quiet time together, when the arrival of Marianne’s ex, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), and former manager arrives. Speaking a mile a minute, Harry has brought along his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), whom he just found out about a year prior.
Marianne and Paul are presented as a pretty strong couple. Together six years, they each have a history with Harry, who introduced the pair to each other after he and Marianne called it quits. Harry comes off like the life of the party, but ultimately, he’s there for one reason: To try and get Marianne back.
“A Bigger Splash” awakens the senses. Guadagnino infuses the film with flowing movement and sensual takes: Food, clothes, body movement. Everything is heightened. The interactions between the characters are subtle and deep, layered with unspoken sentiment, hurt, betrayal, and fun. In the span of two hours, however, the pacing could have moved a bit more swiftly, but I love the fact that Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich don’t stray away from awkward and sometimes uncomfortable dialogue and situations.
The plot builds up, the tensions between the characters slowly reaching the point of no return. But it’s in the final act that the film loses the essence of its tone and a little bit of its way. A chain of events set off by Fiennes and Schoenaerts’ characters carry the film into the finale. These events alter the entire formula of the film and don’t fit organically along with everything else we’ve previously been given. “A Bigger Splash” has a lot to offer with good character interactions and awkward exchanges that will leave an eyebrow (or two) raised. In the end, however, all this is foiled by an event that should have completed the film and not dragged it down.
"A Bigger Splash" is gorgeously shot, taking pure advantage of its location to embody the story it wants to tell. The characters are all complicated wrecks that look put together at first until all layers are peeled back. However, the final 20 minutes change the film and not for the better.