"I’m not going to Oviedo with this charmingly candid wife-beater!"
- Vicky (Rebecca Hall)
Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem): I was in love with a most incredible woman, and, in the end…she put a knife into me.
Cristina (Scarlett Johansson): My god! That’s terrible!
Vicky: Well, maybe you did something to deserve it.
Juan Antonio: Maybe you will understand more about your own feelings once we’ve made love.
Rebecca: Yeah, or less.
At a glance:
Vicky Cristina Barcelona starts promisingly and is always pretty to look at, but its literal humorless narration and bland story and characters soon brand it as another disappointing latter day Woody Allen film
Like a moth to a flame, I’m drawn to watch each successive Woody Allen film, each one slightly worse than the last, as his once great talent slowly slips away. But still, he gets good actors, and he makes ‘actors films’, heavy with dialogue, even if that dialogue is becoming cliched, the humor forced, and the stories derivative.
But this was going to be different ‘Vicky…’ was running at 81% on Rotten Tomatoes. I tried not to get my hopes up, as many reviewers seemed to be giving it a pass just because it wasn’t as bad as the last few Allen films (just as they had done recently with the most recent Guy Ritchie film, Rocknrolla). How strange to judge a movie not on its own merits, but on how it ranks in the writer/director’s oeuvre.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a competently made film – not groundbreaking, nor funny; not even provocative, although Allen seems to think it is. But the story of love, marriage, divorce, and affairs is presented more as a documentary, with painful narration inserted in case any of the character’s motivations or actions aren’t spelled out enough on-screen (which they are). The first 20 minutes are the best, setting up situations that could be funny, dramatic, or both. But the rest of the story goes nowhere, really – like ‘…a dead shark’, to quote from a much better Allen script from long ago, Annie Hall. It’s serious, but it has nothing to be serious about. (Granted, I’ve never fully appreciated Allen’s serious films; they just are not as good as his best comedies).
When Allen doesn’t cast himself, he always seems to get one character to take over his neurotic comedy voice. Here, it’s Vicky (Rebecca Hall), doing a fair imitation of Woody (although not nearly as good as Mia Farrow used to do). Vicky’s character has the most depth, and Hall breathes more life into her role than Johansson, but, after a promising beginning, her story is pretty much abandoned for most of the middle of the film.
To compensate somewhat for its faults, the film is well-acted and beautiful to look at, with Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz (who is Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actress), and Rebecca Hall all radiant in Spanish locations.
Other reviewers said:
"No amount of pretty scenery can conceal the tedium."
- Gregory Weinkauf (ÜberCiné)
"...audiences once cheered the notion of a new Woody Allen film. Now, instead, we merely endure them."
- Daniel M. Kimmel (Worcester Telegram & Gazette)
"Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the cinematic equivalent of a book on tape: a movie that watches itself for you and tells you what it sees."
- Christopher Orr (New Republic)