Woody Allen’s latest continues his recent string of high quality productions and nestles right between Match Point and Cassandra’s Dream as his second best film of the last 5 years or so.
Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is an engaged girl who is in love with her husband and the idea of classic love out of a book or movie and knows what she wants in her love. Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) is her best friend and polar opposite. She will be erratic and go out on a limb, sleep with someone out of love, and only knows what she doesn’t want in love, but not what she does. The two travel to Spain for two months summer vacation so Vicky can work on her thesis in Catalan society while Christina unwinds from the stress induced by a short film she had labored over for the last 6 months. The two stay with Vicky’s distant aunt Judy (Patricia Clarkson) as the two sights see and enjoy the Spanish culture together in which the two have a chance encounter with Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) an accomplished painter with a reputation in the art community for the antics of his failed marriage to María Elena (Penelope Cruz). Juan Antonio sees the two title girls dining one night after catching Cristina’s eye at a gallery earlier that evening and offers them a weekend in Oviedo for sightseeing love making among the three of them and that is where the story really begins.
To spoil any more would be a disservice to this wonderful little film that sucks in you and doesn’t let go. The film is being sold completely wrong, as it isn’t about a torrid forbidden love affair between María Elena, Juan Antonio, and Cristina. The title of this film is Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and that is exactly what this film is, it looks at the romantic exploits and the analysis of love of Vicky and Cristiana during their experiences in Spain over their 2 month vacation. The film throws all of these ideas and interpretations and questions about loves and brilliantly leaves with answers that really answer nothing, but guide you enough to make you ponder what love is on your own. You get to see both ends of the broad spectrum of love and Woody Allen does an amazing job of capturing it all in his wonderful script.
Rebecca Hall breaks out as Vicky and is both beautiful and complex as she struggles with her feelings throughout this film. She offers the grounded stereotypical look on love and most of us can and will relate to her as we try to figure out what we believe. I hope that she breaks out from her and becomes a recognizable star in the near future. Scarlet Johansson turns in possibly her best performance yet as the free spirit Cristina, and has never looked better either. You can see Cristina regain her confidence and find herself in the film and you can see her arc subtly change due to Johansson’s great turn. Penelope Cruz turns in a crazy and strong performance as María Elena and lives up to the lofty picture painted of her before she ever shows up on screen. Only in about the third of the film, we get to see everything that María Elena is and she is both sad and inspiring and that shines upon many of the characters in the film. I think the real stand out in the film though is Javier Bardem’s Juan Antonio. He is so real and confident and we so easily buy into his crazy ideas on love. He knows love, that is for sure, and his confidence lifts others and makes people more than they were capable of before they met him. He has an effect on everyone he meets and Bardem just shines every time he is on screen.
In the end, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a wonderful little film that examines love from all angles. The four leads turn in fantastic performances all around and suck you into both the characters and story that unfold. Filled with plenty of humor, romance, and intrigue, there is something for just about anyone in this. It’s a film that sticks with you because it poses questions and leaves you to answer them and might even affect the way you look at life or love when it is all said and done.