Sunday, February 1, 2009

Movie Review: Vicky Christina Barcelona

Vicky Christina Barcelona
Directed By: Woody Allen

I will admit upfront I am a Woody Allen fan, in a big way. Unlike many of his critics, I don't think Woody has had a lapse in good films. I will admit he has done some off-kilter work (Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Scoop come to mind), however I think overall his work may be the strongest from one single director. And the man puts out 1 movie a year, and has for over 30 years. This year he actually managed 2 movies (this and Cassandra's Dream .. which I still haven't seen). A lot of critics called "Match Point" Woody Allen's return to form. And if that was the case - then Vicky Christina Barcelona returns Woody to his comic roots that so many people admire him for. After all the tale of Vicky and Christina in Barcelona is a comedy, although by the time its over - you may not realize that.

This time around Woody tells us the story of 2 best friends, Vicky and Christina. They are those types of friends who have very little in common but still click - they balance each other out. Rebecca Hall stars as Vicky - she is steady, strong willed, level headed, and seems to have her life all planned out, this is afterall her last big vacation before she settles down and becomes married. Christina, played by Scarlet Johannson (Woody's latest muse), is Vicky's opposite. She is unbalanced, outspoken, overtly passionate, unlucky in love, and sadly untalented. The two have traveled to Barcelona to stay with family friends Judy and Mark Nash (Patricia Clarkson and Kevin Dunn). While enjoying the sites they both encounter mysterious (and sexy) painter Juan Antonio (played by Javier Bardem in a complete 180 from his last role in No Country for Old Men). Juan Antonio offers the 2 girl-pals a free trip to a resort island where he shall make love to them both. Of course Vicky is put off and Christina is foaming at the mouth. Thus begins the love triangle which ultimately haunts all the players in this film.

As time passes, we learn of Juan Antonio's ex-wife, the wild and dangerous Maria Elena, played to the hilt by Penelope Cruz. She comes in when the time is all wrong, and pretty much threatens to ruin the girl's vacation. What follows is something that even a torrid romance novel couldn't cover. Vicky falls for Juan Antonio, so does Christina. They both sleep with him. Christina moves in. Maria Elena moves in. They begin a 3-way love affair. Vicky second guesses her marriage, as does her house mother Judy who admits to have being miserable in married life for years. Marie Elena is insane - causes various problems. Who ends up with whom? Who is happy in the end? That's the joy of the film. It is a comedy, however these are not funny people, or happy people. Perhaps the films central-most characters (Vicky and Christina) are 2 people trapped in some of lifes most unhappy muddles. And the fact that Woody Allen can bring his wit and charm to even the most depressing of people, is to his credit.

And as usual he casts just the right people. Rebecca Hall is stunning at Vicky, and really has the chops for the many flip-flops that her character goes through. Scarlet Johansson is always either one of my favorite parts of a film (like her amazing performances in Lost in Translation, Ghost Town, and being the only bright spot in the horrible movie The Spirit), or one of my least favorites (she wasn't very good in Allen's Scoop, and although she was very good in the first half of Match Point, she lost it in the second half): here she is definitely on point. Her Christina is wonderful in that talentless yet passion filled way. Javier Bardem is hysterical and sexy - and thats what he needs to be. Patricia Clarkson is always good - and I only wish she had more screen time. And then there's Penelope Cruz who has received the most attention from the film, and rightfully so. Her Marie Elena is a firework display. She lights up the screen and, at times, sets it on fire. As the unpredictable, fiery, passionate, and destructive Marie Elena, Cruz has turned in the performance of her career to date.

Although Vicky Christina Barcelona wouldn't rank in my top 10 Woody Allen films of all time, doesn't mean it isnt almost a comedic masterpiece, because it basically is. In a year of a lot of very depressing and sad Oscar contenders it was a nice break to be handed Woody Allen's little comedy about pure unhappiness.

**** out of *****

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