Foreign & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video ">
Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video
VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
Vicki (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlet Johansson) are the two main characters of Woody Allen's latest romantic comedy, but part of the film’s ingenuity is that the third name, Barcelona, is a character itself. Aside from the hot-blooded, romantic atmosphere, with Spanish guitars and wine at night and gorgeous architecture during the day, characters like Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) and María Elena (Penélope Cruz) seem to spring out almost naturally out of this balmy city. It may be Allen's last international film for a while (according to reports his next film will be back to New York), but it's maybe his best at evoking the effect of a place on his characters
New Yorkers Vicki and Cristina, as we learn from the Barry Lyndon-esque authoritative narrator, are on leave in Barcelona for the summer, Vicki for studying purposes and Cristina looking for something new creatively after a bad acting experience and a breakup. Almost immediately after shacking up with friends Judy and Mark (Patricia Clarkson and Kevin Dunn), Vicki and Cristina are approached one night by local painter Juan Antonio, who tempts them (or rather Cristina) with a weekend in the country. Cristina falls for him immediately, but Vicki, already engaged to Doug (Chris Messina) back in New York, is resistant to his charms—which, by the end of the weekend, gives way to a passionate encounter.
Then there's more complications, and not just with Vicki and Juan Antonio and their suppressed affections (or the surprise arrival of Doug). There's also Juan's ex-wife, María Elena, who comes back into Juan Antonio's life while Cristina is staying with him. To say much more would reveal and spoil the fun and the romance and the questions Allen raises about monogamy and the complacency of marriage. On the surface, it might not sound like the 72-year-old filmmaker is pursuing anything new, as he's long explored marriage, infidelity, and, as María Elena says at one point to Cristina, chronic dissatisfaction with lovers.
And yet when it's at its best, Vicki Cristina Barcelona is Allen's funniest, most intelligent, and well-acted romantic comedy in many years, maybe even in this decade (which isn't saying a lot since this and Match Point are the closest he's reached to greatness since the ’90s). It works because of the actors’ dedication to the material: Cruz is a total tornado of a presence here, with this and Volver her best performances to date; Hall is very good in a part that some actresses might have sleepwalk through if not coached and coaxed right; Clarkson, in her few scenes where she reveals her own fractured marriage to Vicki, is great; and Johansson, who, as a given, is stunning in her appearance, reveals again in an Allen movie how underrated she can be as an actress—when used right and not just as ho-hum window dressing.
The film also works because Allen knows how to write dialog and relationships so brilliantly, maybe better than anyone working in film today in terms of simple-but all-too-complex revelations. The scenes he writes here are so good, and are so cool in being a kind of Woody-version of a telenovela (hysterical couple and three-way included, though not graphic), that he almost gets in the way with the narration. This last part is the only real significant flaw, unlike in Husbands and Wives, where Allen used voice-over in a documentary style and to shorter effect. Here it takes some getting used to, like hearing excerpts from a trashy romance novel as well as unnecessary "and then she never felt the same way again" kind of notations to a character or scene.
you love classic Woody Allen romantic comedy, and you also are interested in how
he's starting to get a little riskier, a little more interested in the
existential angles of his characters that he's touched on off-and-on for
years and has only finally opened up in full bitter glory (Match
Point and Cassandra's Dream), this is the pick of the rest of
the summer. Overall, you just don't get rom-coms
this smart or just plain funny and perfectly PG-13 outrageous as
Vicki Cristina Barcelona. Jack