I'd probably say I'm a medium-sized fan of Woody Allen. If I were ordering a dose of Woody Allen at Starbucks, I'd probably get it in a grande cup. His nebbishy dialogue style grates on my nerves after too long, and some of his movies remind me of me at my most neurotic, which is tiring. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is more of the same Allenistic stuff we've grown to expect, but it's also given a refreshing jolt from the (mostly) talented and entirely beautiful cast. There's a nice balance of overthinky anxiety, wacky storyline, and attractive people to make this Woody Allen film a medium-sized, easy-to-drink treat.
The movie is narrated as though someone is reading us a story, and the detached commentary provides occasional insights into the thoughts and feelings of the protagonists, which I appreciated in this case. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are girlfriends who set off for a Summer in Barcelona. They soon befriend a famous painter, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who is known for his volatile relationship with his ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz).
Cristina becomes Juan Antonio's paramour, but before too long, Vicky finds herself drawn to him as well, despite her engagement to the wealthy, steady Doug (Chris Messina). The love triangle becomes a square when the emotionally unstable Maria Elena returns to live in Juan Antonio's house, which he now shares with Cristina. The tangled web gets messier — and funnier — as the Summer goes on. For more of my thoughts on all of this, read more.
It's easy to relax into this Summer-in-Spain atmosphere, and the city lends a softer, friendlier vibe to the film than the usual fast-paced craziness of New York City, Allen's frequent location of choice. Bardem and Cruz are two of the hottest human beings ever, in my opinion, and both are superb as the love-crazed, passionate artists forever enmeshed in a love/hate, push-pull relationship. Even if they weren't superb, I would love watching them (I mean, look at this photo of Penelope Cruz! Look at it!).
Using Spanish actors in a Spanish setting (as opposed to solely focusing on the Americans' experiences abroad) was wise, and these two often carry some of the wackier scenes simply because they are so comfortable in the setting. They're less easy with some of the anxious, uniquely Woody Allen-y dialogue, but frankly, so is Johansson. For all that talk of her being a "muse," she doesn't do very well with Allen's material. The one who really and truly does is Rebecca Hall, playing a character who thinks so much and so intensely about everything, she has a hard time just relaxing and being content. Sound like anyone else we could name? It's like she was born to star in a Woody Allen film, and I hope we get to see her in more of them.
Photos courtesy of The Weinstein Company