Vicky Cristina Barcelona

vickyTo say Vicky Cristina Barcelona is Woody Allen’s best film in years is damning it with faint praise. His record has been so spotty of late (I’m not a fan of the overrated Match Point) that a minor success winds up as a Golden Globe winner for Best Comedy.

And Barcelona is indeed a minor success. It is well-acted and beautiful to look at, but feels over-written in the way Allen’s more serious films can be. He doesn’t spend enough time making fun of the upper-class intellectualism on display here, especially as exemplified by Rebecca Hall’s Vicky.

Vicky and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), two classic Woody Allen New York women, are spending a summer in Barcelona in a relative’s villa. Vicky is uptight and proper and engaged to a yuppie blowhard while Cristina is a free spirit unable to find happiness but always willing to try.

They encounter Spanish painter Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) who, with a pickup technique that could work only in Europe, invites them to his small town home for wine and lovemaking. Cristina jumps at the invitation and Rebecca reluctantly tags along to keep an eye on her friend.

The encounter is predictable, though well executed. Vicky falls sick and Cristina falls into bed with Juan Antonio, realizing that all of her careful life planning has left her particularly vulnerable to the chaos of true passion.

But Allen has more up his sleeve than the romantic awakening of Vicky, and the film takes a delightful turn when Juan Antonio’s ex-wife (likely Academy Award winner Penelope Cruz) enters the picture. Cruz does wonderful work here as the passionate and murderously jealous Maria Elena. She and Juan Antonio are meant to be together but destined to be apart and Cruz’s portrayal makes perfect sense of that contradiction.

The films takes some enjoyable twists and turns so that toward the end you’re really not sure who is going to wind up with whom. Javier Bardem must have been loving life, both as a character who gets to sleep with three gorgeous women and an actor who gets to work opposite three wonderful actresses. The one thing Allen has done consistently throughout his career is write great roles for women, and these are no exception.

Though I question whether Woody Allen will ever deliver another Annie Hall, Manhattan or Hannah and Her Sisters, it’s good to see him offer up something this sly and sexy, even if it’s not a total success. His is a voice and a vision that I will always welcome.

2 thoughts on “Vicky Cristina Barcelona

  1. Amy says:

    While I agree with much of what you say here, I don’t think that Allen was wrong not to make fun of Vicky, as her intellectualism is portrayed as something almost pitiable. Far from coming across as a superior, insufferable character, Vicky is one of the most vulnerable and lost of all of these characters. To make fun of that wouldn’t have been funny at all. Her fiance, had he earned more screen time, was the better target 🙂

  2. pegclifton says:

    I agree with your review and also Amy’s comments–sure makes you want to visit Barcelona, doesn’t it?

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