(2008)4Perry SeibertDuring the unpleasant public fallout that came from the revelation of Woody Allen's relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, Allen gave a press conference where he answered a question about this new relationship by saying, "The heart wants what it wants. There's no logic to those things." That line serves as the governing principle of Allen's film Vicky Cristina Barcelona. However, far from an outright endorsement of this seemingly selfish approach to the world, the movie takes a clear look at the inevitable emotional fallout from acting (or not acting) on your heart's desires.
The title characters are Vicky, an intelligent realist who savors the stability and normalcy of her engagement; and Cristina, a romantic dreamer, forever seeking out new experiences in order to dispel the dissatisfaction that continually haunts her. Both speak fluent "Woodyish," a too-often humorless, overly articulate patois that usually serves little more purpose than to advance the plot -- almost every line of dialogue sounds like subtitles being read out loud. The young actresses playing the leads, Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson, try their damnedest, but never quite make these women seem like anything more than story constructs.
His Spanish actors, however, fare much better. Javier Bardem, as the passionate artist who seduces them both, gives his often-stilted lines a personal spin, bringing the film some spark whenever he is onscreen. As this love triangle plays out, the viewer honestly wants Bardem to choose the girl that will make him happy. His solid work keeps things moving until Penélope Cruz shows up as his tempestuous ex. Cruz's performance, as well as the screenplay, brings a new dimension to the typical Allen stereotype of a psychotic, neurotic woman full of sexual energy. There is real pain and lust and passion in this woman, and she provides the best moments in any Woody film since Sean Penn's hilarious, despicable jazz guitarist in Sweet and Lowdown. She brings Vicky Cristina Barcelona to life.
The screenplay never flinches from the obvious pain the characters clearly feel as they act on, or ignore, their instincts. Allen offers no simple answers; being responsible can lead to a life of dull predictability and longing for what might have been, and following your heart will inevitably damage the people you once loved. It's a beautifully sad premise that, with more compelling central figures, might have become a true late-period Allen masterpiece. As it stands, Vicky Cristina Barcelona offers proof that Allen is still thinking about life and love, even if he isn't thinking as hard as he should about filmmaking.
Woody Allen's romantic drama Vicky Cristina Barcelona stars Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson as best friends Vicky and Cristina. As the movie opens, the pair of twentysomethings travel to Barcelona so that Vicky can work on her post-graduate degree. The two meet the charming artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who offers to take them on a vacation and make love to them. Vicky, being a happily engaged young woman, refuses, but Cristina is eager for this life experience. A love triangle begins to coalesce, and things grow more complicated when Juan Antonio's passionate, unstable ex, Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz), arrives to stay after a suicide attempt.