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Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Comedy movie directed by Woody Allen

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Back in form but not in the U.S.A.

  • Aug 18, 2008
  • by
It was probably after Bullets Over Broadway (1994) that I became weary of Woody Allen's films and avoided those that followed. Then, while reading various reviews of recently released films, I was encouraged to see Vicky Cristina Barcelona and thoroughly enjoyed it. Apparently content to write its screenplay and then direct it without appearing in it, Allen's unique influence continues to be significant but inconspicuous as he allows his characters and plot to develop naturally. Here's the situation. Two young and attractive American women, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johannson), arrive in Barcelona to spend much of the summer with Vicky's older friends, Judy and Mark Nash (Patricia Clarkson and Kevin Dunn). For reasons best revealed in the film, they become involved with a local artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), and develop separate, quite different relationships with him.

Several complications gradually and sometimes suddenly occur. For example, Vicky is engaged to Doug (Chris Messina) back in the U.S. who impulsively decides to visit her in Barcelona and marry her immediately in a civil ceremony there, to be followed by a lavish wedding later in the year. He represents everything that the analytical and grounded Vicky repeatedly claims she wants (i.e. wealth, status, stability, security). However, he lacks the passion and sensitivity that she has found irresistible in Juan Antonio. In stunning contrast, Cristina is a free spirit, "up for anything," who also finds the artist irresistible and eagerly moves in with him, to Vicky's predictable dismay. Meanwhile, Judy Nash confides to Vicky that there is no love in her marriage and urges Vicky to follow her heart, not her carefully calculated life plan. Nonetheless, Vicky marries Doug soon after he appears and they remain in Barcelona for awhile.

Unexpectedly, Juan Antonio's former wife whom he still loves, Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz), appears. In fact, after her failed suicide attempt, Juan Antonio insists that she move back into the home they once shared and live with him and Cristina until she (Maria Elena) recovers. He loves all three women and they love him. It would be a disservice to those who have not as yet seen the film to reveal more plot details in this review of it.

I think this is Allen's most coherent and engaging film since Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). His direction is crisp and sure, the dialogue is appropriate to various situations (e.g. there is an almost total absence of Allenesque quips), and the performances by the lead actors are outstanding. It is impossible for me to take my eyes off Cruz whenever she is onscreen. Given her pyrotechnical personality, she is capable of literally anything. Clarkson does the best she can with her role as Judy Nash, one that allows her few opportunities to display her talents. (The same is true of her role in The Untouchables as Catherine Ness.) As for Bardem, he transcends the stereotype of a "Latin Lover." Heaven knows his Juan Antonio is charming but he is also a caring person who is completely truthful with others. (Note the direct approach he takes in his first encounter with the Vicky and Cristy who can't take their eyes off him in a restaurant after first seeing him in an art gallery earlier.) He challenges other characters to examine their values and, perhaps, trust their feelings more than they would otherwise be willing to do. Also, credit Javier Aquirresarobe with superb cinematography. When portraying life in Barcelona and (briefly) in Oviedo, he and Allen provide a visual feast of gourmet images.

I also appreciate the fact that questions remain as the film ends. Will Vicky experience the same disillusionment that Judy has? Will Cristina finally find what she wants in life, having experimented with and then eliminated so much that she doesn't? Will Juan Antonio and Maria Elena ever be able to accept each other (as is) as they love each other?

"Lo que sera...."

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More Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008... reviews
review by . August 06, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
About half way through Vicky Cristina Barcelona, my wife and I decided this was just not a good movie. I managed to slog through to the bitter end. The most annoying part of the film is the voice over narration read by Christopher Evan Welch. This was supposed to be some form of creative funny device, that just served to annoy after the first 30 minutes. Technically this is a good film, Woody Allen does know how to direct skillfully. Story-wise and acting, this was just a mess.    Two …
review by . May 17, 2009
Hmm I was really interested to see this movie because I figured it could turn out to be anything, I really had no idea what it would be like. It surprised me how light the movie sort of was, I mean it was no chick flick romance comedy but it wasn't nearly as heavy as I thought it might be. Woody Allen is all over the place so I had no idea what to expect. I would definitely compare it to Scoop and also a bit to Matchpoint.    One thing that was kind of weird and distracting to …
review by . April 19, 2009
With Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen has created yet another drop-the-viewer-in-the-middle-of-someone's-life story. I like it.    If nothing else, there's much to love about the setting of the story. I love Barcelona...lot's of fond memories.    But back to the movie. With a cast of strange and engaging characters (though only superficially), it's easy to let the light storyline string you along. The extent to which we come to know each of the characters …
review by . March 07, 2009
... Okay, okay, the twits are not bad looking, but I learned long ago, the hard way, that looks aren't everything. I could, if I wanted to start a fight in the comment thread, propose that Woody Allen intended us to take his two escapees from "Friends" as a biting satire of the airy-fairy mentality of young American women of a certain generation. From that perspective, I'd call VCB a great movie, or at least "not bad at all." Honestly, though, I can't say that I would have chosen to spend almost …
review by . January 30, 2009
Woody Allen has written and directed another European based film that feels like a view across the pond toward America: Allen is still Allen, but with the comparison of European attitudes with American narcissism makes this little film a bit more bitter than most of his others. As with most of Allen's movies, as fine as they are there are usually some annoying elements. In VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA that element is in the presence of an unseen narrator (Christopher Evan Welch) who provides the bridges …
review by . January 07, 2009
If there is a message to be garnered from the 2008 film, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," its that director, Woody Allen, at 72 seems just as confused about life as he did way back in the 70s when he first pondered life and romance in his classics, "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan." Instead of focusing on life from his seasoned vantage point by portraying characters that are a little more chronologically concurrent with his personal experience, Allen resorts to having a cast of relative youngsters--in particular …
review by . August 20, 2008
It's been a LONG time since Woody Allen gave us a film that was truly meaningful and had something "deep" to say about life, love and the human condition. My favorite is HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, but CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS and HUSBANDS & WIVES (with Sydney Pollack's and Judy Davis' greatest performances) are Allen's most recent classics. Since that time, almost everyone would agree that his work has been pretty mediocre. In recent years, MATCH POINT saw Allen moving to London and the change in locale …
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Robert Morris ()
Ranked #168
Professionally, I am an independent management consultant who specializes in accelerated executive development and breakthrough high-impact organizational performance. I also review mostly business books … more
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It must be true that getting out of town can do a fellow a lot of good, becauseVicky Cristina Barcelonais the best movie Woody Allen has made in years. Okay, you're right, 2006'sMatch Pointalready claimed that honor and, as Allen's first film made in England, established the virtues of getting away from overfamiliar territory (namely Manhattan). But the Woodman's first film made in Spain matches the ice-coldMatch Pointfor crisp authority, and yields a good deal more sheer pleasure besides. Rebecca Hall (Vicky) and Scarlett Johansson (Cristina) play two young Americans, best friends, spending a summer in Catalonia. Vicky is going for a master's in "Catalan identity" (though her Spanish is shaky); Cristina is going along for, oh, just about anything. That soon includes celebrated abstract artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who's anything but abstract in his forthright proposition that the two join him in his private plane, his travels, and his bed. That he has an insane ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz), who may or may not have tried to kill him is not really an issue until the wife reappears and ... well, consider the possibilities.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona isn't exactly a comedy, at least not in the manner of Allen's "early, funny ones," but it's informed by a rueful wit that finds its fullest expression in reflective voiceover commentary. Spoken by Christopher Evan Welch, but surely on behalf of the 73-year-old auteur, this element of the film is neither (as some ...

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Director: Woody Allen
Genre: Comedy
DVD Release Date: January 27, 2009
Runtime: 96 minutes
Studio: The Weinstein Company
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