Up at the Villa Movie Review
Up at the Villa reunites the director of Angels and Insects, Philip Haas, with Thomas, his former star. And true to most re-pairings, the film feels oddly familiar -- as if we've seen Thomas doing this before: In pre-WWII Italy, a high-society (though penniless, natch) widow named Mary (Thomas) is being wooed by an older man of some wealth (James Fox). He proposes, then promptly jaunts off for a few days so she can consider.
Naturally, the world opens up to Mary as she deliberates, and she soon finds romance in the arms of an Austrian refugee (Jeremy Davies), which culminates in a lone night of wild monkey love (in an era where lone nights of wild monkey love are frowned upon). Mary finds herself in a jam when the refugee gets a little clingy, and Sean Penn's roguish Rowley has to come in to help her out.
All the while, Mary faces the budding turmoil of pre-war Europe and the shenanigans of her friend Princess (Anne Bancroft, truly living up to her character's name)... and you are somehow supposed to care about all of this.
Up at the Villa's prime flaw is that Mary is hardly a sympathetic creature. Her beauty is espoused by all when she actually looks quite plain. Her kindness is talked about when she's actually quite duplicitous. She throws her affections around on a whim. Hardly a role model.
That said, Penn is lots of fun as Rowley, but he actually has far less screen time than one would think. And Bancroft is entertaining in that Great Expectations sort of way.
Acting is one thing, but ultimately, Up at the Villa falls flat because the "intrigue" of this little drama is sorely lacking. The Nazis are coming and the best villain we get is a corrupt policeman? Il Duce would have been sorely disappointed. The cover-up that comprises the latter half of the movie feels treadworn, at best, pedestrian, at worst. Pokemon has more thrills.
Lastly, the romance is neither very believable nor very torrid. Penn and Thomas have absolutely no chemistry. For that matter, neither do any of Thomas's other romantic entanglements in the film. In other words: This is not The English Patient. It's more of a cadaver.