Woody Allen’s career as a director is in it’s fifth decade. With one release every year, it wouldn’t be surprising if Allen’s track record was somewhat patchy. However, he remains one of the most consistent writer-directors working in the industry and his list of successes dwarfs his failures. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is Allen’s 42nd film and his 4th since leaving behind New York city, the muse of most of his films.
Vicky and Cristina are two women taking time out from their busy lives to spend a summer in Barcelona. Vicky is uptight and straight-laced, soon to be married to a stuffy business man who lives in New York. Her life has become everything she’s planned for, and on the surface, she seems to be very contented in her choices. Cristina, on the other hand, is somewhat lost. Having just written, directed and starred in a short film about love, she is still on her search for answers to life’s questions. At an exhibition, the two women are noticed by artist Juan Antonio Gonzalo. He propositions both women, with only Cristina responding positively. But when the women travel to Juan’s home town of Oviedo, they find themselves enamored with the artist. But they are both unaware of Juan’s volatile relationship with his ex-wife, who is about to reenter his life.
Woody Allen’s films are known for their cerebral nature. They are driven more by character than plot. Recently, Allen’s made films that have tended more towards genre films. But Vicky Cristina Barcelona sees Allen return to more familiar territory. The film is in no way nearly as good as Allen’s classics such as Annie Hall or The Purple Rose of Cairo, but compared to the slightly disappointing films of the last few years, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is certainly much more of a success. Like the films he has made in New York, Allen has a knack for filming his locations as if they are as important a character as his humans. And that remains the case here. The first thing you’ll think after seeing the film is how much you want to go to Barcelona. Or return to it if you haven’t been already!
The performances in the film are for the most part pretty strong. Scarlett Johansson is, for once, pretty good in her role as Cristina. She probably would have seemed a lot stronger if a great deal of her scenes weren’t with Penelope Cruz. Cruz, who has been nominated for an Oscar for her performance is excellent as the unhinged Maria Elena, Juan’s ex-wife. Rebecca Hall plays Vicky and has her American accent down to a tee. And Javier Bardem is also very good as the brooding and tortured artist Juan. It’s a very strong cast, as always in Allen films.
While Vicky Cristina Barcelona won’t ever be near the top in the pantheon of Woody Allen films. But it’s still a good comedy with plenty to say. It’s not an ideal picture of love. It’s got it’s share of pain and disappointment. But in the end, it’s surprisingly light-hearted.