Vicky Christina Barcelona - ***
As a never-seen narrator tells us at the beginning of Woody Allen’s delightful new film, “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” Vicky and Christina are lifelong friends who share pretty much the same views on everything except love. When the two of them head off for a summer in Spain, their ideas of love will be tested to the extreme.
Vicky (played by the excellent Rebecca Hall), is a straightforward, no-nonsense, slightly repressed young woman who is about to be married to her New York businessman boyfriend (Chris Messina). Christina (Scarlett Johannson) is a bit more of a free spirit, still trying to find her place in life and open to all experiences.
When a chance encounter with the notorious painter Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) leads to his offer of a weekend trip for both of the women, naturally Vicky is hesitant and Christina is ready to go. Of course, this being a movie, they take the trip and the unexpected happens.
It is Vicky who ends up bedding Juan Antonio when Christina falls ill, and this sets up her dilemma for the rest of the film. Though Christina and Juan Antonio ultimately end up as lovers, Woody Allen has set up an interesting dynamic between these three characters that morphs even further when Juan Antonio’s ex-wife (played by the fiery, scene-stealing Penelope Cruz) comes on the scene later in the film.
“Vicky Christina Barcelona” boasts fine performances all around. Scarlett Johannson has a great, natural beauty and acting style about her and she is totally believable in the part. Javier Bardem is sensual and winning, conveying the right level of sexiness. You would follow him anywhere. They are ably supported by Patricia Clarkson and Kevin Dunn as Vicky and Christina’s American hosts.
I do have a couple of quibbles, though. Allen has created such a beautiful, realistic set-up for these characters that when Vicky’s fiancé shows up, he tends to fall back on “white American” stereotypes (we’re concerned only with golf and making money, etc.) that are too easy to lampoon and have been done to death. All of the Spanish and expatriate characters are so nicely shaded, it would have been nicer to give the others some complexity as well.
The ending is also a bit of a mess. One of the great joys of watching this film was that I had no idea where it was going, or how it was going to end. The possibilities were endless. Unfortunately, the one Allen chose was a bit too perfunctory and a bit unbelievable.
That being said, this is one of Woody Allen’s best films in years. The greatest compliment I can pay is that it doesn’t feel like a Woody Allen film. In “Vicky Christina Barcelona” he has created a nicely believable scenario, and his screenplay is charming, witty and hot.
It’s a perfect late-summer film that will make you want to travel, eat great food and fall in dangerous love.
VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA
Dir/Scr: Woody Allen;
Stars: Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johannson, Rebecca Hall, Penelope Cruz.