I was definitely seduced by “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” although I think it had a lot more to do with the enchanting location and beautiful people than the script or the acting. I agree with Mom that Penelope Cruz’ stand out performance shines and she draws fascinating levels out of what could have been a stock character, the “tortured artist”.
I’m not a Woody Allen fan. While I’ve enjoyed a few of his films (“Sweet and Lowdown”, “Bullets Over Broadway”) I don’t automatically purchase a ticket when his name graces the marquee. I’m not even an “Annie Hall” fan. Just recently a friend said to me “well, maybe it’s a New York thing” when I told her I just wasn’t that into the movie after the first half hour. Well, I’ve never been to India but I certainly loved “Slumdog Millionaire”. I’ve even spent considerable time in New York but there weren’t any neurotic, bespectacled men whining in my ear so maybe I didn’t get the full effect. I realize that “Annie Hall”‘s iconic status must come from somewhere so I’ll give it another try.
With “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” I recognize Allen’s slighty quirky, offbeat neuroses but I kind of like it. The characters don’t always seem authentic, Javier Bardem is way too good to be true as the hot, impetuous artist Juan Antonio and I didn’t get enough charm and wit from Rebecca Hall’s Vicky to sell me Juan Antonio’s attraction.
Scarlett Johansson’s Cristina is wonderfully airy, if a little irritating, as the soul searching traveler open to both Juan Antonio’s advances and those of his tempestous ex-wife, Maria Elena. Why do Spanish people always get two cool names? But it’s Penelope Cruz who grounds the film and gives it depth with her ferocious and painful portrayal of a troubled artist who needs more emotionally and creatively than anyone can give her.
I agree with Mom’s assertion that the character arcs in the film are limited. By the end of the film Cristina still searches, Maria Elena lives on the knife edge of yet another breakdown and Vicky marries the “safe bet”. But I still get the characters and the choices they make. There are people like Cristina who may wander for years before finding a home or purpose and artists like Maria Elena who will always need to much, cost too much for the people that love them. And what about Vicky, drawn to the exotic and dangerous “other” but unable to find her way past her own inhibitions. Will that little seed of doubt and dissatisfaction turn to something darker in the future? Allen leaves us to wonder but the lush, sensual summer trip he takes us on his certainly a gorgeous one!