Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Quadruple Feature Part One: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Directed by Woody Allen
Released August 15, 2008

More so than many other filmmakers, it’s largely true that Woody Allen simply remakes the same movie every time he releases a new film. The parallel was especially clear when “Match Point” came out and resembled his earlier film “Crimes & Misdemeanors”, transplanted from New York to England, with the Woody Allen character and the humor missing. That particular translation was an effective one, and one that I enjoyed quite a bit. “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” once again takes Allen away from his familiar city, maintaining ties to New York with frequent phone calls but to a much lesser extent that something like “Everyone Says I Love You”, where characters travel often to foreign cities but ultimately remain grounded in New York. The usage of Barcelona as a central locale is certainly effective, taking full advantage of the colorful country and the rich culture. Allen solves the problem of having all his foreign characters seem far too much like New Yorkers by making sure that everyone is in fact a native New Yorker with the exception of true-life Spaniards Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. That said, his characters are still completely typical, identifiable Allen characters – people who talk incessantly and overanalyze any situation that may come their way, and speak much more eloquently than might really be true (Scarlett Johansson beginning her sentences with “I must apologize…”). As long as Allen’s around, there’s plenty of inconsequential adultery to go around, and that’s one of the film’s chief problems. The ride is loads of fun, but in the end nothing really goes anywhere. That’s not a spoiler, rather an observations that Allen allows the center portion of his film to speak for itself instead of actually bothering to resolve any of the story. I was hoping for some sort of grand finale with a wink-wink conclusion that both applied to the movie and aligned with Allen’s traditional finishes. There’s no such feeling of satisfaction, which only brings the film down from a great movie to an entertaining one. Rebecca Hall, who I’ve championed as an actress since her performance in the James McAvoy starrer “Starter for 10”, is one of those typical Allen characters, but she plays the role well and adds another impressive performance to her resume. Scarlett Johannson has the least showy role of both the movie and possibly her career so far, though you wouldn’t know it from the way she handles herself with the rest of the cast, so constantly flirtatious yet simultaneously intelligent. There are deeply rooted problems with Johansson’s character, a young woman content to suffer wasted months of affection to step aside to make someone else happy. I don’t think there are people like that who actually exist and maintain such a positive outlook on life. Bardem and Cruz have been better in other films, and here they play their characters just as they should. Look for great supporting performances from former recurring “Six Feet Under” guest-stars Patricia Clarkson and Chris Messina. The film, luckily, does save itself from becoming far too ridiculous by clocking out after only about an hour and a half, and while the ride seems over a bit abruptly, it is enjoyable and worthwhile, just not as good as you might expect from a filmmaker as experienced in effective romantic comedy.


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