Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Review by Matthew Frendo
Scarlett Johanssen is Woody's new “it” girl, that's for sure.  This little fact happens to be great for both parties involved.  Now, granted, I haven't seen all 500,000 Woody Allen movies out there, but I've seen quite a few, and been a fan of all to varying degrees.  It seems like Scarlett Johanssen has provided him with a new muse of sorts, as his new output is far different than his old.  Scarlett benefits from this partnership as well, as she has become the best actress' of our generation, as opposed to making forgettable, commercial fluff (with a few exceptions).

Of course, the same themes run through Allen's films, new and old, which, for the most part, are (a) obsession and (b) the dichotomy between artistic freespiritedness and conservative monogamy.  However, his later work has been much more serious, such as Match Point (in fact, Match Point is fascinating because it is the embodiment of exactly the same neurosis as his previous films, set to tragedy instead of comedy).  Vicky Cristina Barcelona continues a trend to more serious fare, though far lighter than the before-mentioned Match Point.  And it seems to also answer the latter theme discussed: that both sides bring their own set of confusion and loss, with neither providing a full answer for life.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona takes place in, as you may have guessed, Barcelona, Spain.  It follows Vicky (Rebecca Hall, who earlier co-starred with Johanssen in The Prestige), a student who is engaged to be married back in New York, and Cristina (Johanssen), who is still searching for her place in life.  While in Barcelona, they meet a painter named Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) who asks them to accompany him to another part of the country to spend time at his place, and to possibly make love (he's very up front about things).  Vicky has no desire to go, but since Cristina's going, she goes to be a chaperone of sorts.  When Cristina gets sick, Vicky is forced to go with Juan Antonio alone to see sites for the weekend.  She begins to like him more than she should, and one night gives into his advances.  When Cristina recuperates, they don't tell her but they all fly back to Barcelona.  Juan then starts to see Cristina, while Vicky is forced to admit that she is not as certain of her marriage as she once was.

It's probably best if I leave the plot right there, so as to not ruin what comes next.  I will say that Penelope Cruz turns in one of the strongest performances I've ever seen (there is already possible Academy Award nomination talk going around).  The cinematography is beautiful and the soundtrack (made up mostly of Spanish guitar work) fits the mood perfectly.  The one word that came to mind when describing this film is: “exquisite”.  This is a classy film, one in which beauty goes side-by-side with melancholy and doubt.

This is where I would discuss the cons of the film, but honestly, I couldn’t find one.  This may be the most perfect film I've seen (a sentiment only previously felt with Blade Runner).  There's a rumor that Allen did not talk to the actors at all, except to give stage direction, letting the cast flesh out the characters themselves.  And if that’s true, Vicky Cristina Barcelona just became the textbook case that letting things happen naturally does yield the most truthful results (in this case, truth being more philosophical than historical).  With Hollywood being overrun by idiotic fantasy and a quest for spectacle over film, it is nice to know some are still seeking art to deliver what it was meant for: simple truth.  And that's all I can really say about it…

5 /5 stars


Review by Don Hill

How do you make a movie starring lots of hot people (including Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johanssen, two of my favorites) in a story about lesbian sex, three-way relationships, infidelity, and suicide set in exotic Barcelona and make it, well, rather dull?  You get Woody Allen to write and direct it, apparently.

Two American friends go on holiday to Spain and stay with an aunt.  They meet this hot Spanish painter named Juan (Javier Bardem) who has a psycho ex-girlfriend and is into three-ways.  The engaged girl snorts and acts all affronted and the other girl is ready to go.  They fly to some tiny island and then, without spoiling too much, both girls fall for Juan, kind of, but Cristina moves in with him for the summer.  Then, Juan’s ex gets released from the hospital (after a failed suicide attempt_ and comes to live with him and his new girlfriend.  Drama ensues, as does the lesbian experimentation with Cristina (Johanssen) and Maria Elena (Cruz) until Vicky realizes that she wants Juan and not her fiancé.  Also, if I hear “Speak English” one more time I will throw someone under a bus…

I would never have guessed that this movie would be dull.  Reading the plot synopsis, seeing the fantastic actors involved and knowing that a legend of film was writing and directing, I was really excited to see the movie when it was first talked about.  But I watched it and I was bored…. well, as bored as I could possibly be while watching Scarlett have (implied) lesbian sex with Penelope Cruz with Javier waiting upstairs for the three-way.  Halfway through the movie I was half-hoping Bardem would revert back to Anton Chigurh, but alas, it was not to be.

All of the acting was top-notch, as would be expected with this great cast.  The story was pretty good too, but I just was not enthralled and I really wanted to be.  The narration was grating and unnecessary and the movie seemed to wander towards the end.  And the ending?  Just terrible.  It just… ended.  No resolution.  Maybe Woody wanted it to be that way, but how would you have felt if Rocky had ended during Round 8? 

To continue with the boxing analogies, this movie “coulda been a contenda”.  But instead it retires without ever winning the heavyweight title.  And the next time I want to see some Woody Allen, I’ll just re-watch Annie Hall.      

3 / 5 stars


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