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Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Life is the ultimate work of art.

Directed by:

Woody Allen

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 96 minutes

US Certificate: 12A UK Certificate: PG-13

Country: United States

I hadn’t seen Javier Bardem since I watched No Country for Old Men, and seeing him here as the “I ooze sexy” Juan Antonio just proves his range. That aside, it’s hard for me to recommend Woody Allen’s latest chatfest, but I’m also not tossing it out on the street. Barcelona is shot beautifully, the cast nails their roles, and it’s not necessarily a bad story. The whole thing’s kinda lacking in heart, though, and for all its exhortations of love, it comes off hollow and pointless.

Best friends Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are on their way to spend a summer in Spain. Vicky’s engaged to be married to her loving and stable boyfriend back in the States, while Cristina only knows that what she wants is the opposite of that. The total epitome of “the opposite of that” is sensual painter Juan Antonio (Bardem), who manages to sweep up all the women in his path—including his fiery ex-wife María Elena (Penélope Cruz)—into a tangled web of lust, love, and confusion.

I’m just not a Woody Allen type of girl. I love dialogue and neurosis just as much as anybody, but I’ve never bought in to the whole Allen motif of romantic angst. There are praiseworthy performances from all the majors and supportings here—Bardem, of course, Hall, Johansson—but the only character that ever comes to life in any developed way is Cruz’s volatile ex-wife, which I suspect is more because of what she brings to the role and less to the role as written. Every part seems written as a summary—“practical female who longs to loosen up for love”; “romantic artsy blonde willing to experiment”; “hot guy with an accent who paints and seduces”—but not just written, tecnically well written. Banter flies around and everyone is just so very well spoken, but there’s nothing below the surface, no complexity to characters who never seem to learn anything or do anything but talk in big circles. Also, for a romantic comedy, it’s not especially romantic or comedic—more just mediocre. I wanted to like it, and there are a few reasons to recommend it—like I said, Cruz is spectacular, and the beauty of Barcelona and its color and architecture are a sight to see. But this isn’t a travel video, and Cruz doesn’t even show up until over 40 minutes in. Ultimately, it’s an unsatisfyingly shallow dive into the lives of people with no depth.

It's Got: Awesome Penélope Cruz, Sexy Javier Bardem, Very Pretty City.

It Needs: Heart, Soul, Depth.

Alternatives:

Cassandra's Dream, Hannah and Her Sisters, Match Point

Summary

Not necessarily a bad movie, but despite many solid performances, there’s ultimately a disconnect in this supposed romantic comedy that isn’t really much of either.

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