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Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008 - Movie Review of Woody Allen's Latest

Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall
Running Time: 96 minutes

Score: 6.5 out of 10

This review from ZeMightyGorilla

Vicki Cristina Barcelona (VCB for short) is a nice return to form for Allen after Cassandra's Dream, which was entertaining throughout but totally uneven and unsatisfying. VCB is pretty classic Woody Allen— an intimate look at doomed relationships and unsatisfied people who can't seem to find true happiness. The movie is not as depressing as that sentence might make it sound—it is full of life, humor and energy, and it reads like a love letter to Spain. The performances are all pretty great, especially Javier Bardem and Rebecca Hall. The movie is not without faults, but it is smart and fun and interesting and entertaining.

Plot (minor spoilers): 2 best friends from America are visiting Barcelona for the summer. One is Vicki (played by Rebecca Hall), who is the type of woman who looks for stability and trust in relationships. She is engaged to a nice "safe" guy in NY and is pretty happy/content with life. Her best friend is Cristina (played by Scarlett Johansson). Unlike Vicki, Cristina always seeks out torrid, fiery relationships, which are high on passion and low on stability.

The two are staying with a couple (Patricia Clarkson and Kevin Dunn) who take them to an art show; at the show, Cristina immediately makes eyes for Juan Antonio Gonzolo (Javier Bardem), a successful Spanish artist who was nearly stabbed to death by his last girlfriend (or did he stab her?—the rumors floating around about Juan Antonio are a bit unclear). Upon hearing these rumors, Cristina immediately decides that Juan Antonio is the guy for her. While at dinner with Vicki, Cristina flirtatiously stares at Juan Antonio, causing him to approach their dinner table with an interesting proposition. He invites Cristina and Vicki to accompany him to an island where all three can eat, drink, enjoy nature, and make love together.

Vicki is disgusted and offended by his offer, but Cristina is turned on, and Woody Allen fast-forwards to the two women on a small island-bound plane with Juan Antonio. After a day of wine-drinking, Cristina immediately agrees to go to bed with Juan Antonio, but she becomes nauseous and is in no shape to seal the deal. As Cristina spends the next day in bed with a hangover, Vicki hangs with Juan Antonio who takes her on an intimate tour of the island. Vicki's barriers break down; she falls for Juan Antonio and winds up cheating on her fiancé and sleeping with the artist.

Vicki never tells Cristina about this indiscretion, but she is shocked when Juan Antonio pursues a relationship with Cristina over her. As the summer continues, Cristina and Juan Antonio grow extremely close, and in no time Cristina moves in with him. Meanwhile, as a result of her earlier fling with Juan Antonio, Vicki grows increasingly dissatisfied with her relationship with her fiancé and with her life in general. Meanwhile, Cristina is as happy as can be until Juan Antonio's ex-girlfriend Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) moves in with the couple to recuperate from a failed suicide attempt.

I don't want to go too much further into the plot. Suffice it to say, all four leads find themselves in dire straits—Vicki is hung up on Juan Antonio and is questioning her engagement. Cristina is freaked out by the return of Juan Antonio's ex-lover and doubts that she will ever be an equal to the two great artists. Maria Elena is still in love with Juan Antonio and is not too fond of the new woman in his life. And finally, Juan Antonio is just plain confused at how to handle the two fiery women in his house.

Problems: As I noted before, the film has some problems. Woody Allen relies too heavily on narration throughout the movie. Sometimes this works well, but many times it seems like a cheap shortcut—why show two characters falling in love when the narrator can just tell you that they have? Why show the development of a rift in a relationship when the narrator can just tell you that a rift has occurred? Also, the character of Juan Antonio begins as a fairy tale (he's a supremely confidant, wealthy artist who drives sports cars, pilots planes, and is the toast of Spain), but then suddenly shifts to a more realistic character (he is artistically challenged, he cannot hold on to the women he loves). I think this shift plays to Allen's message that no relationship/lover is perfect , but it seems a bit abrupt—one moment Juan Antonio is every woman's dream, the next moment he's a fragile, stressed-out dude.

Overall, Johansson does a really good job, but every once in a while she starts speaking in that trademark nervous Woody Allen-style. I found this to be really distracting— it seems like at least one actor in every Allen film does this. It totally takes me out of Allen's movies whenever this happens.

My last fault is a bit juvenile, but I feel I must share it. I was really hoping for some hot sex scenes with Cruz and/or Johansson, but the movie is fairly conservative when it comes to showing the action. Except for a little bit of kissing and some side-boob, there isn't much to get excited about. I guess I was expecting Woody Allen to push the boundaries a bit on this one, and I was disappointed that he left most of the sex off-screen. Some of you will no doubt roll your eyes at this complaint, but I'm just trying to be honest here.

Great stuff: The acting is top-notch! Except for my minor complaint about Johansson mimicking Woody Allen in a handful of scenes, the rest of her performance was great. ALL of the characters are extremely likeable, which is no easy feat in a movie like this. Bardem is awesome— the scene where he first approaches Vicki and Cristina with his island-getaway offer is a tour-de-force. Rebecca Hall is so beautiful and really emotes well throughout the film, as her character goes through the most on-screen turmoil. I've never really heard of her before, but I'm now totally in love with her. And Penelope Cruz is soooo loveable, despite being batshit crazy.

As dark as it is, I really respected the film's message about love. People enter into relationships with different hopes and desires, and it is really rare when both parties can have their needs met. Anyone who has been through a heartbreak (as either victim or cause) can find someone to relate to in this movie.

Also, this film made me fall in love with Barcelona. Having never even been to Spain, I am now seriously thinking about heading there on my next vacation.

I really recommend it, and I think Woody Allen deserves a ton of praise for turning out such diverse, interesting work in the past few years.

Discuss in the forum.