Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

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Leave it to Woody Allen to prove once again what great writing can do to a simple premise. The master of dark humor has returned to familiar territory, framing the curious nature of human relationships within his cynical perspective. At age 71, he is as sharp as ever. Allen employs his most recent muse, Scarlett Johansson, as twenty-something Cristina, who is on a trip to Spain with her girlfriend, Vicky, played by Rebecca Hall. Vicky and Cristina are best friends yet total opposites. Vicky prefers men on the path to fortune and serious relationships, whereas Cristina yearns for whimsical flings with artists and thinkers. They just so happen to encounter an artist at dinner, Juan Antonio, played by Javier Bardem. The bizarre love triangle which ensues involves sight-seeing through Barcelona, a lot of wine, and the emergence of Maria Elena, played by Penelope Cruz. Bardem is every bit as smooth as his character Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men was haunting, and is great to watch in an excellent role to follow up his Oscar winning performance. Johansson is mediocre for the most part, and aside from Lost in Translation, has yet to show great skill or just what Allen sees in her. She and Hall both have bright spots within their performances, but fade in the presence of Bardem and Cruz. Although neither of their characters names appear in the title, Bardem and Cruz are the stars of the show and are thunder and lightning when on screen together. They are sexy, combustible, and truly enact the passion that has come to be associated with the Hispanic lifestyle. Cruz is on fire in one her best roles. Maria Elena is a beautiful inferno seemingly unable to control her emotions or tact. Cruz has quietly built an impressive resume in good films, and may be the most underrated actress in the business. Allen compliments the beauty of his cast by capturing the beauty of Barcelona with landscape shots and locations ranging from fine restaurants and museums to small villages and trees under the moon. The film is one of the sexiest of the past few years, but shows very little and leaves much to the imagination. A particularly evocative scene involving Cruz and Johansson in a dark room, however, is likely to be one of the film's most memorable. Like all of Allen's films, he touches on the intricacies and oddities of love, placing his characters in situations everyone can relate to and having them ask themselves questions that we have all considered, although not for sixty years like Allen has. The humor is sharp but not obvious, hitting the nail on the head for some and flying over the head for others. But for those that get it, they will be laughing hard, on the inside. Woody Allen is the dean of the romantic comedy and brings legitimacy to an otherwise atrocious genre. Once again, he shows exactly how it is supposed to be done with a spicy, intelligent film.

Good for: Allen fans, people who like romantic comedies, fans of dark humor, art film fans

Bad for: people who liked 50 First Dates

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