MOVIE REVIEW: Vicki Cristina Barcelona

A friend of mine met a woman at a party that I threw. They had a torrid, tempestuous relationship that he once described as “like heroin”. Couldn’t live without her, couldn’t live with her.

That description pretty much describes at least one of the relationships in the new Woody Allen movie Vicki Cristina Barcelona, which I saw on Columbus Day by myself – well, OK, with four other people, but without my wife, who kindly stayed home with the daughter. She knows my favorite film is Woody’s Annie Hall, that I’ve seen several Allen films, and was anxious to see this one, especially since the reviews were mostly positive.

Like many good Allen movies, VCB is about sex. Whether it’s about a giant condom or a split screen ascertaining whether three times a week is “all the time” or “hardly at all”. In this case, it’s about whether the two title characters, played by Rebecca Hall as the engaged Vicki and Scarlett Johansson, a Woody Allen regular, as the unsettled Cristina, will succumb to the title vista. That includes Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) as the most forthright Lothario you’ll ever meet.

I found the movie to be a quite nice experience when Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz), the ex of Juan Antonio shows up. She is a force of nature, and ramps up the film from a pleasant diversion to one worth seeing.

There’s also a mildly interesting subplot involving the Nashes (Kevin Dunn and the always great Patricia Clarkson) that informs the main story. Chris Messina is stuck with that thankless role of Doug, the earnest, somewhat unpleasant finance of Vicki, the archtype which shows up in every other romantic movie, but the twist in this storyline makes that ultimately pay off as well.

I’ve watched a LOT of Woody Allen films, though none since 1995’s Mighty Aphrodite, save for the disappointing The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001). This is Woody Allen back, if not in his 1970s form, at least in his 1980s form, which is good enough to recommend.


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