Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Woody Allen’s take on human relationships has always been fascinating to me. From ANNIE HALL and MANHATTAN to HANNAH AND HER SISTERS to even, yes, ANYTHING ELSE (Jason Biggs gets a little street cred here; very little), Woody explores the myriad of ways people fall in and out of love, and oftentimes leans toward the outs. His characters are kept apart due to cynicism, due to sadness, due to insecurity and countless other reasons, and in VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA such troubled relationships are explored, but a theory is presented for their repair…add more people to the equation.
Woody continues his European period (like Charlie Chaplin during his un-American thing) in this film about two girlfriends traveling through Spain. Scarlett Johansson’s Cristina is exactly as we would want her to be – a vixen who prefers the unconventional, and came to Spain to find it – while Vicky, played by Rebecca Hall, is engaged back in the states only coming to Spain to get her masters in “Catalan Identity” (another in a long line of Woody Allen references I had to look up. Hello, Marshall McLuhan).
When Javier Bardem enters as Juan Antonio, a suave painter, his initial bravado is all it takes to win over Cristina, and, as she reluctantly gets to know him better, Vicky becomes enamored with him for his passion. And just to round him out as the luckiest character in a Woody Allen movie, Penelope Cruz enters as his ex-wife Maria Elena, who also still loves him – although in the past they have been known to show their affection by trying to kill each other.
This love quadrilateral (if my geometry serves me) is not played for tawdry enjoyment like something from Cinemax, but rather as the solution for all the relationship problems of each person involved. Cristina maintains her unconventional-ism, Juan Antonio and Maria Elena have a buffer for their insanity and Vicky has an alternative to her banal future with her banal fiancé. It’s win-win-win-win, right? Not quite, for the movie, anyway. There is an aside concerning the nature of the artistic genius which is interesting to artists, but is too jarring from the main story. It also delves into the pretentious, something Woody also likes to do occasionally.
One thing I wish Mr. Konigsberg would have done, which he’s done so well in the past, is narrate this puppy. Christopher Evan Welch is the unseen narrator who could be most generously described as banal, at worst… boring. Woody’s movies should have Woody’s narration. If not, get Morgan Freeman. He’ll narrate anything.
Penelope Cruz took home a little statue for her performance here, and in that Cruz joins a long line of women who thank Woody Allen in an acceptance speech. However, it must have been a collaborative Oscar for her work in VOLVER the year before, because the best actress in this tryst was Rebecca Hall, who played Vicky with internal conflict that was both visible and at times subtle, she interacts with more people and undergoes the most change. That’s hard to play, and she played it well.
There are definite pluses to VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, and no, not just the pleasure of a Penelope/Scarlett lip-lock. There are discussions to be had concerning the nature of relationships and the comfortable versus the exciting and they are sparked by this film. But the asides and the narration take away from the experience slightly. As luck would have it though, there’s still the Penelope/Scarlett lip-lock.