Sunday, August 17, 2024

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Twentysomethings Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) spend some solid party months in Spain housesitting for friends of Vicky's (Patricia Clarkson and Kevin Dunn). Only their idea of idle life as well as love are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Enter Lothario-esque artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem, as sexy as he was evil in No Country For Old Men) who offers the ladies a weekend retreat, with himself naturally.
Things get complicated as Juan Antonio becomes involved with first Cristina and then to the engaged Vicky. About the half way point Juan Antonio's ex-wife, the estranged Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz stealing every scene she's in) shows up. She's hot blooded enough to have tried to kill Juan previously. As the story evolves from there it seems that Maria's an artist in her own right, and much of Juan's success as a painter comes from stylistic flourishes he ripped off from her. Similarly Juan brings about changes in the lives of both Vicky and Cristina. The end finds everyone slighter older and just maybe thinking they're wiser.
Every time I read a review that says "Woody Allen's best film in 20 years" I want to reach for my revolver. Fortunately that revolver is a plastic Mattel Agent Zero spy camera that turns into a gun when you press the shutter. Just a couple of years ago the same 20 year analogy was going around when Allen made Match Point. It's like people ignore the fact that Allen is the true American auteur who churns out films regularly every year. No waiting five years in development between projects for this nebbish writer. Every decade contains colossal examples of his work; yes, Match Point (2005) is a page out of Hitchcock's book just like Interiors (1979) replicates the Bergman experience. Radio Days, Zelig, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Sweet and Lowdown are just a few of Allen's above average films.
To accurately pinpoint where Vicky Cristina Barcelona falls on the Woodometer, it fits snug between Manhattan and his mid-80s films in character and frivolity. Vicky's character most resembles Mary Wilkie (Diane Keaton) from Manhattan with her almost Calvinistic attitude in the face of desire. Vicky Cristina makes its bed and sleeps in it. The film takes delight in putting emotions and desires under a microscope of laughter. Some say Woody's back. I say he never left.


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