Maybe Woody Allen is channeling Pedro Almodovar, or maybe he's just bored with New York and London, but Vicky Christina Barcelona is a slight departure from the standard Woody Allen's comedy that deals specifically with love, friendship, art, loyalty, and, oh yes, sex.
Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Christina (Scarlett Johansson) are two best friends who are spending a few summer months in Spain at the beautiful home of Vicky's friend Judy (Patricia Clarkson). Vicky's there to study art and prepare for her thesis, and Christina is there to have an experience. While having a lot in common, Vicky and Christina have one sharp difference: their views on love and relationships. Vicky knows exactly what she wants and how she wants to live out her life: she and fiance Doug (Chris Messina) are getting married in the Fall; meanwhile, Christina doesn't believe in the conventional and she's desperate to find out what she really wants.
Soon enough, they meet their challenge in a dashing, Bohemian artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), whose no-nonsense approach to life is both alluring and threatening to Vicky and Christina. Juan Antonio makes no apologies for desiring both women (at the same time). Vicky finds that repulsive, while Christina is seriously considering the offer. Eventually, however, despite her resistance, Juan's sensitive side wins Vicky over. She's extremely confused, and when Doug proposes that they get married in Barcelona, Vicky reluctantly agrees while trying to hide her feelings and confusion. At the same time, Christina carries on a torrid love affair with Juan Antonio, to the dismay of his neurotic ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz).
Rebecca Hall (The Prestige) is endearing as the "always in control" Vicky. Once Vicky's world is turned upside down by Juan Antonio, Hall shows a great range of emotions even if her character is trying to hide those emotions. She has a great balance of confidence and vulnerability. In comparison, Scarlett Johansson's (The Nanny Diaries) is rather flat and unconvincing as the naif whose idea of love is to do whatever she wants with whomever she wants. Johansson's portrayal isn't layered enough to make us really get her.
Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) is charismatic as the seducer. He shows enough deepness and soul to lift the character from the potentially damaging characterization of a callous cad. Still, one questions his motives, especially with Vicky, knowing full well that she's either engaged or married. Where are his morals and limitations or boundaries? Still, Bardem is good enough to make us believe that these women could be so utterly smitten with him. Meanwhile, Penelope Cruz (Elegy) has relatively brief but important role as Juan Antonio's passionate ex, Maria Elena. Her character is possibly the most interesting and explosive one in the film, and she's dazzling in the role. It's a shame that she doesn't have enough screen time to really take the character to places.
Written and directed by Woody Allen (Scoop), the screenplay is supposed to be loosely structured, episodic and casual. The romantic comedy unfolds casually and the plot takes on different turns based on the characters' impulsive decisions. The dialogue is typically Allen-esque: witty, sharp, and often verbose. It also has Allen's quirky characters and outrageous situations. Still, something is amiss in the screenplay, and it feels amateurish. The overbearing narration sounds like a radio play and eventually grates on my nerves: "And then they had some wonderful wine at a bistro by the river. After that they visited the art galleries and had a good time..." Perhaps Allen is trying for some dry, deadpan humor in the narration but it just comes off as pedestrian and annoying. What part of "show, don't tell" does the veteran scribe and filmmaker not understand?
In addition, the circumstances seem forced and unconvincing. There are times when I feel that Allen is trying too hard to make his characters do what he wants, so the narrator has something to talk about: how silly these people are. The characters appear to be too wishy washy for my taste. One minute they're in love and the next they're saying, "This is not what I want." Also, Allen seems to be saying that artists are colorful, spontaneous, exciting people while the non-artist are boring, common, and unwanted. Surely Allen has a biased view on the subject and he may be trying to push that on us. I wouldn't have minded if he did have an agenda with this "romantic comedy" if only he didn't bore me so much with the inane situations and narration. At times, while watching these characters meander through their lives and relationships, I feel like I'm watching paint dry.
And I was expecting the film to entice me to take a trip to Spain. While the locations are beautiful, they don't feel sexy, and Spain is supposed to one of the sexiest places on Earth. That's just odd -- how can Spain not feel sexy in a film about love and sex? All we see is how these people roam around town, sipping purple wine, and feeling sorry for themselves. It's such a far cry from Allen's brilliant and excitingly sexy thriller, Match Point. Now, that movie made me want to go to London. I think Barcelona deserves the same thing.
Stars: Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Christopher Evan Welch, Chris Messina, Patricia Clarkson
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Distributor: Weinstein Company
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving sexuality, drinking and smoking
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Script – 5
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 6.1 out of 10