Ever find yourself wishing Woody Allen had the body of Scarlett Johansson? Yeah. Me neither.
Unfortunately that’s basically what we see in Allen’s latest writing/directing project, “Vicky Christina Barcelona”. Allen’s neurotic and analytical fingerprints are all over this film, especially with the American characters, and it just isn’t a good fit for the story and setting.
In “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” two American women vacationing in Spain are boldly propositioned by a local painter name Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem, “No Country For Old Men”, “Collateral”) for a weekend of sightseeing, wine drinking and lovemaking.
Vicky (Rebecca Hall – “Frost/Nixon”, “The Prestige”) is unimpressed, having a rather traditional take on love, not to mention a fiancé. On the other hand, Christina (Scarlett Johanssen – “The Spirit”, “Lost In Translation”), who likes the chaotic and unpredictable side of love, decides to throw caution to the wind and go with Juan Antonio. She eventually moves in with him, but their situation is complicated when Juan Antonio’s ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz – “Volver”, “Blow”) moves in as well, after attempting suicide.
The interaction between Juan Antonio, Christina and Maria Elena is the most intriguing aspect of the film, but only while the three are at odds. After a time, their resistance toward each other develops into passion. Maria Elena explains that the love between herself and Juan Antonio couldn’t have worked without Christina, the “missing ingredient”.
The idea here is that love works best when it’s free to evolve, unconfined by rigid rules and traditions. But despite how content the trio seems to be, Christina eventually becomes predictably unsatisfied for no real reason and leaves, causing the other two to promptly split up as well.
Christina is front and center for most of the movie. The audience is clearly supposed to admire her flighty, free-spirited nature, but in a nutshell she’s just a selfish romantic who has no idea what she wants. She indulges herself, feeding her own fanciful whims to the detriment of those closest to her, and her selfish nature is never really addressed. Her lack of growth and maturity throughout the film makes her a frustrating protagonist.
But even if I were to agree or resonate with the movie’s themes and characters, I still doubt I’d be that impressed. As I mentioned, the movie is extremely wordy and self-analytical, containing all the subtlety and nuance of a PowerPoint presentation.
Conversations are long and drawn out, and most of the main characters exhibit unrealistic self-awareness. Everyone knows precisely how to communicate their feelings, and in case there’s even a speck of confusion, the emotion fairy narrator tells us exactly what’s going on, like some kind of omniscient Dr. Phil. It seems puzzling that Allen felt the need to explain the film’s adult themes in terms that your average 8-year-old could understand.
The worst offender is the character of Christina. Woody Allen undermines her sexiness and mysteriousness by giving her the wordy dialog of a neurotic New York Jew. Don’t get me wrong, the man is brilliant. It’s just that he’s at his best when he places himself in the title role (“Annie Hall”, “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, “Deconstructing Harry”), because he has such a unique and recognizable demeanor. Johanssen simply makes for an awkward leading lady here.
By all means, make up your own mind about the film. If you don’t find the blatant self-explanatory dialog annoying, there’s a certain romantic and novel quality to “Vicky Christina Barcelona” which can be seen on tubidy. Plus Cruz and Bardem really are excellent, and Spain makes for a beautiful setting. Just don’t expect to be surprised or intellectually challenged.