Vicky is serious and engaged. Cristina is carefree and impulsive. Barcelona is beautiful and very, very sexy. Actually, thatâ€™s also true of Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson, who play Vicky and Cristina in this golden-hued romantic drama. Oh, and Javier Bardem, too, who plays Juan Antonio (the name itself is sexy). And we canâ€™t forget Penelope Cruz, as the overly neurotic Maria Elena, who is, despite her characterâ€™s troubles (or maybe because of), the sexiest one of all. Thatâ€™s pretty much what you need to know about Woody Allenâ€™s new movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona. To be honest, thereâ€™s not much more than that.
As the movie opens, Vicky and Cristina have arrived in Barcelona for a summer vacation. A droll but largely unnecessary voiceover brings us up to date, and soon the two have met Juan Antonio, an exceedingly suave Spanish painter who forthrightly invites them on a weekend getaway which will probably involve a threesome. 99.9% of all men would find themselves slapped in such a situation. Javier Bardem does not. What follows is a love triangle that later becomes a trapezoid when Maria Elena, Juan Antonioâ€™s ex-wife, enters the picture. Word might have reached you that Johansson and Cruz engage in some kissing, but voyeurs (and arenâ€™t we all, in a dark theater) should remember that the movie is rated PG-13.
To Allenâ€™s credit, this rather preposterous setup comes off almost naturally. I might have recalled this hilarious Onion article on a couple occasions, but the actors are so strong and Barcelona so gorgeous that I found myself swept along for the ride. It helps immensely that, unlike Woody's films of the last 40 years, the male protagonist isnâ€™t anything like Woody himself, for no one would ever confuse Allen and Bardem. Instead, Bardem plays the sophisticated European as every womanâ€™s fantasy (women wishing to argue for Allenâ€™s fantasy value can send their comments to our Antarctica office). Heâ€™s romantic and assertive, strong but sensitive, creative and handsome. We understand why a one-night stand with Juan Antonio might have Vicky reconsidering not only her wedding but her entire future. Her early declaration â€œIâ€™m not free, Iâ€™m committedâ€ feels more and more like a noose as the movie continues.
That theme of commitment vs. romance plays out like a battle, especially when a friend named Judy (Patricia Clarkson) encourages Vicky to follow her fantasy and screw the consequences. But even the plot threads of suicide and infidelity canâ€™t compete with the filtered summer light that Allen and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (Talk to Her) conjure, with everything subsumed in a warm, hazy glow.
Yet, the film ends strangely like a sitcom, with the finale bringing us back to the very spot from where we began and with each character largely the same. A summer vacation may seem like an escape from the real world, but itâ€™s hard to imagine that Barcelona and Juan Antonio wouldnâ€™t leave more of a mark.