Vicky Cristina Barcelona
If you are a true fan of a particular artist, you have to be prepared to accept change. Any artist worth their salt, no matter what form of expression their art may be, will naturally grow during their careers. This goes for musician, writers and, of course, directors. Sometimes the new direction that the artist goes in may not be what you have come to expect from them, and they fall out of favor with you. For many film buffs, this is the case with comedian, writer and director extraordinaire, Woody Allen. My wife and used to love his early works. They were out of control comedies that just made the world go away. In the last decade or so Allen has been moving towards more dramatic comedies. They are heavily influenced by the elements of old-style romances and lack the zany situations that made his first films so great. Many former fans and critics have shared this yearning for the old Woody since Allen switched his writing and directorial style. While many may not like this new direction, the point here is he has the right to grow and change in a way that he sees fit. His latest film is a case study in this new trend of his; ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona.’ It is a quirky romantic tale that is admittedly a deviation from the old but is representative of the new Allen. If you are expecting belly laughs, look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you are in the mood for a film that blends romance, comedy, and drama with incredibly beautiful people, then this is right up your alley. The film was made on a tiny budget o,f just over $15.5 million and is technically an independent flick. Since it is a Woody Allen movie, it did make back the investment but was considered lackluster in its performance in the box office and met with mixed reviews. The film is being released on DVD and Blu-ray so now you can decide, for yourself how you like the new Woody.
Woody Allen has always been a favorite son of New York City. He has the urbane sense of humor that is engendered in this city. This film was his best-received movie since his Academy Award-nominated ‘Match Point’ back in 2005. While the laughs out loud moments are for the most part gone they have been replaced by quieter humor that still manages to generate laughs from the audience. In the teasers for the theatrical release of the movie, there was a strong suggestion of a three-way love scene with the incredibly beautiful Scarlett Johansson and gorgeous Penélope Cruz with the ruggedly handsome Javier Bardem. In typical Allen fashion much of this is played with but never fully realized, and after all, it is a PG-13 flick. Teasing the audience has become a new part of Allen’s writing technique. He plays with the viewer to pull them into the plot. This is a much more dramatic approach to romance than the earlier Allen flicks. It has matured as a writer to the point where he wants to convey a story rather than just playing for laughs. Going a long way to making this film work is the unique way that Allen develops the characters in this story. The Americans are depicted as naïve and juxtaposed to the more worldly and sophisticated Europeans. This is a time-honored plot device that dates back to the golden age of Hollywood and never seems to tire with the audience. Allen has come to the point of underplaying the writing of his scripts. In this film the plot although the characters are well painted with a fine brush the story itself is flimsy at best. It is a straightforward romantic triangle that grows to become a square with predictable results. In a movie like this, you can pretty much overlook this fact and sit back to enjoy the ride. Sometimes it is the journey, not the destination that truly matters. Since Allen has broadened his vision to the world and has chosen to make his films aboard, he has a far different methodology. Still, like many others, I miss the New York flavor to his works.
No matter what changes Allen has made to his style you have to admit the man still has it when it comes to direction. He is a keen eye for staging a scene; placing the characters perfectly within it. He also knows how to pace a film. There are only a few moments where there is a feeling of it dragging, and even then it works out in the context of the story. Allen wrote the script with Johansson and Bardem in mind. One he had the opportunity to get this in front of his camera he knew what to do with these amazingly talented actors. He gives them enough freedom to work their magic while guiding them to considerable performances. While far afield from his former work Allen still knows how to deliver a solid piece of entertainment and this movie is a prime example. This is a very human story told with grace and style that reaches the audience. Allen explores the complexities of human relationships using easily relatable characters. There is one technique that Allen employs with success; the use of a narrator, Christopher Evan Welch. He can expedite the exposition streamlining the production.
Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) have been very close friends since college. They decide to take a summer holiday in Barcelona to blow off some steam and have some fun. While in town the young ladies plan to stay with relatives of Vicky’s Judy (Patricia Clarkson) and her husband, Mark Nash (Kevin Dunn). Vicky is more practical of the pair with a traditional view of romance and life. She is engaged to Doug (Chris Messina) and is in Barcelona more to further her master’s degree than for the sheer romance of the location. This is in stark contrast to Cristina who is impulsive and freer spirited by nature. The two young women are taking a turn when they decide to view a local art exhibit. There they meet an artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). Both women are immediately attracted to them, and the feeling is mutual with Juan. In a more traditional romance Juan would be faced with a choice, but in this new millennium, Juan wants to have them both and eventually does. Judy warns the pair that Juan recently had a very public falling out with his wife, Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz). At first, Cristina is more receptive to the amorous overtures of Juan than Vicky, but soon he is getting close to both of them. This doesn’t sit well with the jealous and protective Maria.
The performances are stunning. These are all actors well versed in their craft and are near the top of their game here. Bardem demonstrates his incredible range on the heels of his Oscar-winning performance in ‘No Country for Old Men.’ There he was a heartless, cold-blooded killer but handles the romantic lead here with style. Johnson is rapidly becoming one of the best actors of her generation. She represents a return to the classic actresses of the golden age of Hollywood. As always Cruz is a force of nature in her portrayal of her character. She is passionate about her role, and that leaps off the screen.
This is a fantastic film to watch in Blu-ray. The scenery comes across more vivid and alive than you could imagine. The lossless audio surrounds you transporting you to the location in full. No matter what you think of the changes in Allen’s artistic direction, this is a film to watch.
Posted 12/25/08 Posted 08/05/2018