A Bigger Splash is a film stuffed with narcissistic people that are really hard to like. While that doesn’t have to be a problem, it often can be, and it takes a talented director to turn a film about twats into something worth watching. Italian director Luca Guadagnino may just be that man and he is certainly helped by one hell of a cast.
The film begins with rockstar Marianna Lane (Tilda Swinton) recovering from throat surgery with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) on the Italian island of Pantelleria. They spend their days lazing around the pool and shagging; it is a modern-day Eden if that’s your bag. However, into said Eden stumbles Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes) a former lover of Marianna’s and the one who introduced her to Paul. With him comes his maybe-daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) who he has only recently met and who he has a very inappropriate relationship with. It quickly becomes clear he is there to get Marianna back, and chaos descends on her and Paul’s paradise.
The stand out performer is Swinton, who plays the character almost entirely silent due to the throat surgery. She is a Bowie-esque rockstar, and it certainly won’t dissuade those who have suggested she could play him. She rants and raves in looks, and it is a master class in physical acting. The same can be said of Fiennes, but where Swinton is restrained, he is turned up to eleven. He swans around the island shirt unbuttoned and dad-dancing to the Rolling Stones. He is arrogance summed up in one undelightful package and yet it is hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm.
With those two on screen, it is hard for others to get a look in and the only other character to get said look, is the island itself. You can feel the sun pouring out of the screen and the laziness that such holidays inspire. It’s a place made for long days by the pool and drunken nights full of mistakes that can be shrugged off when you return to the real world. It’s the same attitude that prevades the film, and it is hard not to get caught up in that world of sex and alcohol (with the former in particular playing a significant part in proceedings).
That lazy attitude is also the film’s biggest flaw, in that it takes a while to figure out what it really is. When it gets there, it all just seems a bit daft. It fluffs the landing as the film’s third act moves away from the character study it has been and into over the top melodrama. It doesn’t ruin what has come before but leaves things on a bit of a sour note, particularly as you’ve had to sit through two hours worth of film to get there.
A Bigger Splash is worth it just for two of the central performances and even though they are overshadowed by Swinton and Fiennes, Schoenaerts and Johnson are hardly slouches themselves. It’s a film that is hard to love but easy to respect. You get pulled along by that lazy atmosphere and before you know it you almost come close to liking these awful people. The final act does away with any of that, but at the same time comes dangerously near to derailing the whole thing.