Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Woody Allen's romantic, passionate, and very solid European love story "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is a big improvement from his last outing in "Cassandra's Dream." It leaves very little to be desired: it does as much as it can with this plot. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johanson) take an epic trip to Spain where Cristina hopes to find herself and Vicky hopes to study and complete her thesis. They attend an art exhibition with friends (Patricia Clarkson and her husband) and meet artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who proposes to take them to a Spanish town to see a sculpture and "make love." Vicky is quite apprehensive. See, she is engaged to Doug (Chris Messina), an overtly cliche American tourist, who's eager to get back to the US of A and play tennis and watch TV. Messina's small satirical performance is one of the non-romantic joys of this film. Well, of course they go along with Juan, and relationships spark like wildfires, between both Juan and Cristina and Juan and Vicky. The difference is that Vicky has a rockier but more worthwhile love life with Juan, but Cristina is more of what we and Match.com like to think of as "compatible" with Juan. She is also a building block with Juan's past marriage, an unbalanced, bisexual painter who accuses Juan of stealing her style. Her name is Maria Elena, and she is played by the gorgeous Penelope Cruz, who I doubted in the Supporting Actress category, but she is really amazing in this film. Cruz unleashes a wild side, unmatched by any other actress this year. The performance is something not usually milked out of an Allen film, but Woody really did it this time. At this point, he is warming up to the continent across the pond. He has set his past four films there (the other three being "Match Point," "Scoop," and "Dream"). He shouldn't leave. The only problems I can think of are the sometimes slightly tepid acting by Hall, who got a Golden Globe nomination and didn't deserve it. She is good in some subtle moments, but she isn't that good. Another thing is that the movie isn't particularly great except for some good, quiet moments where glances are exchanged, feet rub against each other, and the narrator mentions photography. The real reasons to take a look at this are Cruz and Bardem, as unhappy, violent lovers who can't live with or without each other. It is a strange, thoughtful paradox in a Woody Allen piece full of them. B+

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