The cliché would be to compare Woody Allen’s latest film Vicky Cristina Barcelona to a bottle of fine wine: A fruity, aromatic drop that goes down smooth, lingers momentarily, and then disappears politely from the palette. Unfortunately, I’m not a big drinker, so I won’t resort to such lazy criticism. Maybe I could compare it to Barcelona itself, the backdrop of Vicky and Cristina’s exploits: Filled with wonderful, quirky characters and beautiful sights, but you never forget you are just a tourist, which keeps you from having too much fun. Sadly, I’ve never been to Spain, so I wouldn’t dare use such a generalisation.
What I am qualified to discuss is Woody Allen. As far as I’m concerned, all romantic comedies should be compared to either Annie Hall or Manhattan, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona is no exception. It’s the latest entry in Allen’s European escapades, following Match Point, Scoop and Cassandra’s Dream. Vicky and Cristina have set off for Barcelona in the hope of a little clarity. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) has left her fiancé behind to finish her Masters in Catalina Culture, although she doesn’t really have plans to use it once she’s finished. The flighty Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) just wants to shake up her boring life, a goal she will achieve and ultimately leave her empty.
While enjoying a traditional Spanish midnight dinner, they are approached by an artist named Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem – exorcising Anton Chigurrh quite impressively). He offers them a weekend of sightseeing and good company (which may or may not lead to lovemaking). Vicky is appalled at first; Cristina intrigued. They take him up on his offer, and enjoy the sights and the company (and yes, even the promised lovemaking). Juan Antonio shares stories of his feisty ex Marie Elena (Penelope Cruz). They were so in love, they almost killed each other (quite literally – Juan Antonio has the stab wound to prove it). Of course, Marie Elena comes out of the woodwork to turn the love triangle into a love quadrangle (or something). Juan Antonio’s wild stories are proven to be frighteningly true.
There isn’t a lot to Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It plays out like a particularly fantastical holiday anecdote, except this one is told by one of the all time great storytellers. It’s a bouquet of beautiful scenery, from the leading ladies to the Spanish architecture. Cruz is an absolute firecracker, and Bardem is the nicest guy to ever say the line “perhaps you would understand your feelings better once we have made love.”
However the film isn’t without flaws. The story slows down whenever Cruz and Bardem are off screen. Allen’s signature inner monologues are gone. Instead, an omniscient and unnecessary narrator takes over. It fits into the storybook nature of the film, but it seems the most interesting content is brushed over, in place of cold, concise descriptions (a particularly fiery argument between Juan Antonio and Marie Elena is disregarded completely).
Overall though, it’s hard not to recommend this film, particularly for a lazy winter afternoon. It’s raining outside and you’re snuggled up under a blanket. I could not imagine better company than Vicky, Cristina and Woody.