Vicky Cristina Barcelona: lightweight lifestyle

When passing through Lisbon in 1980 I watched a Woody Allen double feature: Manhattan and Annie Hall. They were English language with Portuguese sub-titles. It was a packed crowd of mainly locals. My frequent loud laughs led the chorus, with the locals following about a second later as they read the jokes. Sometimes Woody’s unique humour was lost in translation leaving just a few of us chortling away.

I had a similar experience in Boston later that year during Flying High (Airplane in the USA). A large Saturday night audience didn’t respond to some of the jokes poking fun at American culture. I must have been the only Aussie in the theatre. My laughter certainly stood out in the Massachusetts crowd.

The same couldn’t have happened with Allen’s latest film Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It was a very disappointing film for old Woody fans. Lightweight lifestyle. Nevertheless, the three people with me enjoyed it as did a number of the audience judging by some of the belly laughs.

Javier Bardem as the rakish painter, Juan Antonio Gonzalo, just wasn’t degenerate enough. His roles since his academy award winning performance in No Country for Old Men have been very soft. Brunette Rebecca Hall was the best of the cast as Vicky, the girl next door with the requisite freckles. Blonde Scarlett Johansson was typecast as the adventurous Cristina. You don’t have to guess which one had the playboy figure.

The narration by Christopher Evan Welch seemed completely unnecessary, adding nothing to our understanding of the plot or the issues raised. Perhaps that had a lot to do with the movie’s total lack of depth in exploring contemporary society. As social satire it was neither funny, scathing nor challenging.

The music was catchy but used too predictably, very fitting to a romantic comedy.

Loved the exterior scenes of Barcelona and Oviedo. The sharp photography made for a visual pleasure. In contrast Whit Stillman’s 1994 Barcelona had that and much more. It is a much better film, being both comic and incisive. Typical is this exchange:

Fred: Maybe you can clarify something for me. Since I’ve been, you know, waiting for the fleet to show up, I’ve read a lot, and…
Ted: Really?
Fred: And one of the things that keeps popping up is this about “subtext.” Plays, novels, songs – they all have a “subtext,” which I take to mean a hidden message or import of some kind. So subtext we know. But what do you call the message or meaning that’s right there on the surface, completely open and obvious? They never talk about that. What do you call what’s above the subtext?

Woody Allen was once the sub-text king. Now we have to settle for the open and obvious. His films have always been better when he starred in them. You could hear his voice repeatedly from the main characters.

IMBd’s quotes memorable quotes might explain the dialogue’s shortcomings:

Juan Antonio: Maria Elena used to say that only unfulfilled love can be romantic.
[repeated line]
Juan Antonio: Speak English!
Cristina: I’ll go to your room, but you’ll have to seduce me.
Juan Antonio: We are meant for each other and not meant for each other. It’s a contradiction.
Maria Elena: You’re still searching for me in every woman.
Juan Antonio: That is not true, Maria Elena. I was in Oviedo some weeks ago with a woman who was the antithesis of you. An American, and something beautiful happened with her. So you’re mistaken.
Maria Elena: You’ll always seek to duplicate what we had. You know it.

Even the sex scenes with the ménage à trois were boring, made-for-television stuff. Penelope Cruz as Maria Elena, the ex-wife with Latin hot-temper, was unconvincing but she had little to work with.

Many cinema goers will enjoy Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It is quality light entertainment but heavily forgettable.
Kevin Rennie


7 Responses

  1. Not being a huge Woody Allen fan, a cinema outing to see this was doubtful, but you’ve confirmed that for me. Nice review though, Kevin, and the rating-out-of-five-stars is a nice touch.

  2. It isn’t vintage Woody Allen so you might like it.

  3. Oh Kevin, I cannot comment on this thread as youtube is blocked here at work, but will read and comment later.

    And I lived in Lisbon in the late 80’s – love the city.

  4. Slightly off topic, but just saw the Wrestler (thanks to the review here a short time ago)

    It was EVERYTHING it was hyped up to be, plus the bonus of a new Springsteen song to round it off

    Springsteen Song

    One of the most memorable quotes for me was the part about how the 80’s music scene rocked, whereas the 90’s (inc. Kurt Cobain here) was a depressing era.

    Too true, imho, the 80’s still knew how to have a good time. And I reckon the bands on the scene now are starting to find that again.

    As for woody, I would have to wait until they start playing it a 2 on a Saturday morning, and I can’t sleep (obviously, not a fan)

  5. Kevin

    Just edited the thread to put in a page break. etc.

    Hope that’s OK.

  6. Kevin

    Ratings idea is great. Are you planning to be our own Bill Collins ?

    Flying HIgh, now that was a great movie. I remember roaring with laughter and being told to make sure I stayed and watched the credits as well as they were also funny, and sure enough it was the first movie I can remember to also add humour into the credits.

    As for Woody Allen, mmmmmmm leave it there.

  7. Planning a film review blog in the near future. All the good names are taken. Watch this space.

    Joni: Must learn how to do page breaks myself .

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