Contrary to Google’s listing as a Mystery/Crime, A Bigger Splash spends more time being an intimate relationship drama between lovers and friends. My theory is someone is trying to pitch a different genre to strengthen appeal which I find wholly unnecessary as the tensions and flirtation the plot contains is more than worth watching. Fading Rockstar Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) and hubby Paul (Matthew Schoenaerts) are vacationing on a remote Italian island as she recovers from vocal surgery when her former lover and producer Harry (Ralph Fiennes) unexpectedly drops by with his estranged daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Through fantastic performances and sporadic flashbacks we discover these characters passions and temptation as the long weekend turns sour. Because Swinton and Fiennes are such angelic actors, it’s mesmerizing to watch them on screen as they really sell their history and evolution as people. The plot falls off in the third act when it becomes that promised crime/mystery which is such a departure from what you’ve enjoyed so far that the film feels lost in an attempt for a grand finale.
I would describe the performances and filmmaking as probably bigger than need but fascinating to watch. Fiennes is so high energy as a coked up music producer who doesn’t know the meaning of “inside voice”. He’s boisterous and flamboyant as he lives by no one’s rules. He swims naked, releases manic, choreographed dance numbers to Rolling Stones hits and is ready to screw every pretty woman he sees. Swinton combats his presence with a mostly silent performance conveying so much with a glance or a nod. The directing and editing is equally flashy. It’s a voyeuristic film as we gaze at beautiful bodies and countryside. Director Luca Guadagnino always chooses something different to focus on whether it be the iPhone thrown on a chair or big sunglasses adorning Marianne’s petite face. We jump from POV and tight close ups to wide shots of the secluded villa showing the containment of our characters with nowhere to go. At times it felt like Guadagnino showing off but moments such as the climactic pool scene that take us on a wild ride of a one take with spinning, diving underwater and a wide pull back are effective and are what make a small drama a spectacle.
The third act is where it all falls apart. Suddenly we need this major plot twist that sends our characters into turmoil even though there emotions have already accomplished that. It raised far more questions than I would have welcomed, most notably it broadens Penelope’s character but not in a good way. She has remained a sexy enigma for most of a film. She causes chaos for enjoyment while wearing cut off shorts and see through tops. I liked her as this mysterious temptress but by the end she has all these extraneous traits that make her more frustrating than intriguing. Also with this twist, the current humanitarian issue of illegal migration to the islands along Europe’s coast becomes a forefront theme which I had not expected nor do I think the film can clearly express what it’s posing with this imagery. It’s a background element via newscasts and when Paul and Penelope run into a small group of Africans on hike which is an interesting choice for a movie about rich white people but by the end these refugees are now a scapegoat for the privileged and there’s no way Bigger Splash earns this highly charged political agenda.
Middling conclusion aside, the relationships and the style make this a worthwhile film. You can enjoy scenic Italy mixed with some of the best acting talents we have. It’s all very European with its use of nudity and general feelings towards the fluidity of love if that’s something you’re into. I’m overly used to Dakota Johnson’s boobs but still surprised to see a dong on screen. Yes, that is how I wanted to end my review, bringing up dong appreciation. This is the female perspective the world is asking for.