Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Perhaps it was something in the Spanish water, but Woody Allen has produced his funniest movie in years in the seductively engaging Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Writer/director Woody Allen travels to Spain for the first time, movie-wise, for a sophisticated bedroom romp about two American girls, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), who hit Barcelona for a summer vacation and end up in an unusual encounter with a local painter (Javier Bardem). He seduces them into joining him on a white-knuckle plane trip to his place. There, he tries to bed both separately and together--until his unstable ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) shows up and throws his game plan off. Cristina seems like the more willing of the two, eager to give anything a try, while Vicky, who is engaged to be married, completely resists--that is, until she doesn't. The unexpected choices made by this group of disparate people suddenly brought together is what keeps Allen's story edgy and surprising.
Allen leaves the acting to others this time and gets sterling results with a splendid cast perfectly suited to the sophisticated and very funny rhythms of Woody's hilarious script. Johansson--clearly Allen's latest muse after Match Point and Scoop--is slyly amusing as a true free spirit, willing to get in the European swing of things. Hall, daughter of director Peter Hall and quite British in real life, affects a perfect American accent to expertly play a young woman whose inner yearnings keep trying to trump her ordered life. The actress is wonderful in a complex portrait of romantic confusion. Patricia Clarkson, so good in Elegy, also is reliably fine here as a woman caught in an unsatisfying marriage. Reigning Supporting Actor winner, Bardem shows natural comedic abilities as a Spanish Lothario who turns on his considerable charm to conquer two women at once. What he doesn't see coming is the wrath of his ex-wife Maria Elena and the hold this near psychotically emotional woman still has on him. Cruz is just great in the role, choosing to play her like any number of straight dramatic parts we've seen her do and letting the comedy emerge like fine wine. Her lapse into Spanish whenever she is upset (which is pretty much all the time) is vintage Woody. Cruz and Bardem are screen gold together.
Woody Allen seems to have had his fading career reinvigorated by venturing out of the safe confines of his beloved New York City first to London with Match Point, his brilliant 2004 crime drama and now to Barcelona with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, his funniest film in years. All the themes and style of past efforts are here but in terms of pure laughter, this is his best since the heyday of Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters and Manhattan. One quirky choice he probably could have dropped is the incessant voice of a narrator carrying the story along like a fairy tale. The dialogue and acting are of such quality, we could have done without the constant explanations of what is going on. As usual, Allen works simply and quickly getting the most out of his rich and wry screenplay, a witty dissertation of the left turns our love lives can so easily take.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.