Review by Tom Swift
A tapas plate of romantic misadventures that belies its belief in true love.
The Wine of Summer might have more accurately been called The Whine of Summer. The film begins with a lover’s lament regarding a lost love of youth. This is a quote from a play told in the voice over of an aging playwright — as the film opens. We then switch to a new, young actor who’s struggling to find his acting voice. And like a tapas plate that is meant only to stimulate the appetites, this films lacks a real human heart.
That young actor will become the aging playwright’s surrogate son. The playwright’s actual son is a failing middle aged playwright with his own whining play. This all occurs in a beautifully photographed Barcelona, Spain. The beauty of the film’s actresses and young male lead outshines all the sun drenched terra cotta walls the film can find. All in all, pretty pictures without an ounce of real heart.
Much love obviously went into the making of this film. But pulling off this kind of romantic drama takes incredible acting. Oddly enough, the film dramatizes the failures of a young actor to bring emotional reality to his newfound career. Ethan Peck is the grandson of Gregory Peck: Hollywood’s classic brooding but never boring actor. Ethan looks the part but looks lost in attempting his grandfather’s soul full glances.
Ethan has just quit his lawyer’s gig and his girlfriend leaves him because he’s lost. He has to find himself first. Off to Spain he goes to find the playwright who wrote the words he cannot bring alive. The playwright looks 80 but has a luscious trust fund mistress on his arm. Father issues abound here. Ethan makes best friends with the May /December couple and even begins to live in her sumptuous villa.
Meanwhile, the playwrights’ long lost live is visiting Barcelona right under his nose. She has a son who plays trombone. For a moment you might fear that the trombone player is the aging playwright’s long lost son. Ethan stumbles into bringing the playwright and his long lost love together. This breaks up the May / December romance when the young woman sees that the love in her father figures’ eyes for the older woman – is not the same look he gives her.
All this ends up in the ways you might expect. The film is short – mercifully. The Wine of Summer is more like a postcard rack in a hospital than a film: pretty pictures that are supposed to make sick patients feel better, but which never seem to fill the emotional bill. A bouquet of living breathing actors to fulfill these clichéd parts might have been a better gift idea.
Marcia Gay Harden fans might be fooled by the film’s poster art into believing she is the star. She is Ethan’s drama teacher. She’s gone in the first ten minutes. Bob Wells gives an indelible performance as the aging playwright. Sonia Braga still looks and acts like a woman someone could love forever. She could still make a tapas plate feel like a full meal, but she’s just used as a plot device here.