I love A Good Year with Russell Crowe. First, it mostly avoided the whole smarmy, “I live overseas with cute natives who like me” genre (if you think the natives are cute – you don’t know the natives; if you think the natives like you- you really don’t know the natives). Crowe plays one of those wonderfully snarky bastards. At the beginning of the movie he tells a co-worker, “Why don’t you go and find some small animals to hurt? I know, find a poodle and punt it off the balcony.” I do so adore people like that. He passes a group of French bikers and yells “Lance Armstrong!”
His secretary, Gemma, tells him that a subordinate is, “Evan taking credit for your trade this week. He’s telling everyone in the office that he’s the one who gave you the idea.”
Crowe replies, “Well, if he wasn’t an ambitious and mercenary little bastard, I never would have given him the job in the first place.” Lovely.
As I have said often, I don’t like passive-aggressive people, I like aggressive-aggressive people; as Samuel Johnson puts it, “Don’t think of retiring from the world until the world will be sorry that you retire. I hate a fellow whom pride or cowardice or laziness drives into a corner, and who does nothing when he is there but sit and growl. Let him come out as I do, and bark.”
But there is an unwritten rule for sarcastic humor to stay funny, not cruel: mean humor needs to be directed at people who can take it. For example when Crowe’s character, Max, is talking to his lawyer about selling a house and vineyard he has inherited:
Max : I wasn’t joking about what I said before about the wine they make here. It is not, I repeat, not, first class. Will that affect our price?
Charlie Willis: Well, how bad can it be?
Max : Well, it gives you a blinding headache and it makes you angry. I can’t imagine the damage a second sip might do.
Charlie Willis: Well, we’ll just have to make sure our buyers don’t know anything about wine. We’ll concentrate on the Americans.
Amusing as it is perfectly acceptable to snark at Americans over wine. We can take it.
A Good Year is rather like a fairy tale and, for the most part, avoids that awful part (found at the end of most movies with snarky people) in which the snarky person has to learn to be nice. When Crowe goes on a first date with the love interest, she says, “There’s something you should know about me, Max. I’m very, very choosy… I’m also very, very suspicious; very, very irrational, and I have a very, very short temper. I’m also extremely jealous and slow to forgive. Just so you know.”
At the end he proposes to her by saying, “I would like a lifetime spent with an irrational and suspicious goddess, some short-tempered jealousy on the side, and a bottle of wine that tastes like you, a glass that’s never empty.”