Vicky Cristina Barcelona Film Review

Posted on 01. Aug, 2008 by Administrator in Film/TV

by Todd Gilchrist

For true cinephiles, there’s nothing worse than a fallen idol – that director, writer or actor who descended into mediocrity or hackdom after helping define a movement or generation of movie-making. For a time, Woody Allen embodied the independence and artistic integrity of directors who came of age in the 1970s, but in recent decades his pedigree has become tarnished; too many lackluster comedies (or maybe just too many movies period) showed audiences that his neurotic poetry was best absorbed in small doses. All of which is why Vicky Cristina Barcelona proves such a welcome surprise; The film is about two vacationing Americans in search of love in Barcelona, and it takes Allen out of his typical New York element. In the process it provides him with a fresh and invigorating palette on which to explore the humorous and often heart wrenching vagaries of romance.

The film stars Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall as Cristina and Vicky, two best friends who discover that their views on love are both right and wrong when they travel to Spain for a summer vacation. Vicky is a relentless pragmatist and Cristina a romantic, but both are thrown for a loop when they meet Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a suave artist who tries to seduce them both simultaneously before bedding each of them individually. Though Vicky’s fiancée professes his love for her back in the states, she increasingly finds herself drawn to Juan Antonio, and she soon finds herself competing for his attention not only with Vicky but Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), a mercurial ex-wife who re-enters his life after an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

While the bare bones of the story sound like little more than the stuff of soap-opera melodrama, Allen’s hand at dealing with so many different personalities and story strands has never been surer. He creates a palpable reality in which all of the characters are human, sympathetic creatures. Unlike past films where Allen essentially engineered the main character as a proxy for himself, the writer-director creates Vicky and Cristina from whole cloth, allowing his two gifted lead actresses the opportunity to really explore each girl’s romantic disposition without feeling like their response must be bound by nervous mannerisms. At the same time, Allen thoroughly understands both of the young women’s points of view, and manages to not judge them as they resist or succumb to the challenges that his story places in front of them.

At 73 and with 43 movies under his belt, many of which are venerated classics, it would be easy for Woody Allen to continue on the path he’s followed in the past few years, turning out one romantic comedy after another until he decides to retire. But it’s reassuring not only to Woody Allen fans but followers of those other fallen idols to see that even at a time when he can and sometimes does phone in his efforts, he can still come up with something as beautiful, believable and poignant as Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

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