Matt's Vicky Cristina Barcelona Review
Typically when I go for art-house type films, it’s because I’m looking for something different from the typical mainstream films that I usually watch. Now, it could just be that I picked a good time to watch Vicky Cristina Barcelona, so it felt extra refreshing, but I don’t think so, I’ve had mixed reactions to art-films in the past. Woody Allen is an interesting filmmaker; his films always contain a mixture between classical formula and his quirky sense of humor. Vicky Cristina Barcelona has an astonishingly simple set-up for such a thematically rich film. In equal parts, the film is about love and artistic expression, and I also think there’s an argument that those two quite often go hand in hand. What I really liked about the film though was the characters, the cast and the cinematography.
- I think different viewers will get different messages out of the film. That the film is not explicit in its message could be considered a weakness, but I think leaving some ambiguity there can be a good thing. I won’t pretend that it didn’t frustrate me a little bit.
- Javier Bardem’s character is just too cool to possibly be real, which is not something that can be said about many of Woody Allen’s characters – he often writes stories about very down to earth people. Did it make his character any less compelling or enjoyable to watch? Absolutely not. However, it added a sort-of fanciful tinge to the story that may or may not have been intentional.
- Woody Allen employs a voice-over to narrate the film. I had a lot of mixed feelings about this technique. It confused me at first, because the narrator is not actually a character in the film. On the other hand, much exposition was accomplished without the use of clunky, expository dialogue. Maybe the film’s script was cleaner for it. It was tolerable, but for whatever reason, the narration didn’t have quite the quality that I expect from good narrators – Like The Shawshank Redemption, Fight Club, or even Stand by Me.
(For the last bullet-point in this section, I’d like to talk about the ending. So anyone reading this who hasn’t seen the film yet, this section will contain SPOILERS, so I recommend skipping down to the “Performances” section.)
- I have very mixed feelings about the ending of this film. The issue is that nothing really changes at the end. The summer ends, Vicky and Cristina leave Barcelona for the US, and all the characters end up in virtually the same place they were before. Part of me thinks this is just bad storytelling. Another part of me thinks that maybe this is great storytelling because of its realism. Life is messy, people go through weird times, they make choices, and quite often they end up going back to whatever they are most comfortable with. Vicky was never a risk taker, and ends up going with the safer option. Cristina is a character that is always looking for things that are different, experiences something during the film and then makes the choice to move on. So maybe the ending is the most realistic element of the film. The characters do not change. Instead, the events of the film reinforce in the characters what was already there.
This is not a big film, it’s a smallish film with a very tight cast of characters, but the performances by the four principal characters were all excellent.
- Javier Bardem is one not so lonely man in a cast populated mostly by women. In the hands of a lesser actor, his character would have been completely unlikable. Somehow Bardem has a way about him that made him likable and often charming. I couldn’t put my finger on what that is, but I do know that most that see this film will like his character and enjoy his performance – and men who watch this film will, no doubt, want to be him.
- This is not Scarlett Johansson’s best performance to date, but she’s her usual charming self, and serves as a nice contrast to Penelope Cruz and Rebecca Hall’s characters.
- Rebecca Hall plays the character that I identified with most, Vicky. As a mostly straight-edged sort of guy, I understood her character’s instincts to play it safe, even if I thought her fiancé was a complete dial-tone. She is, perhaps, the most complex character in the film, and I thought her performance was fantastic.
- Penelope Cruz is probably the most entertaining presence onscreen, because she plays the most flamboyant and erratic character in the film. I don’t want to give away too much, but I was impressed at how well Woody Allen was able to use her, particularly the fact that she is fluent in both English and Spanish – she and Bardem tended to speak in English and Spanish interchangeably. It worked well for the film, and I liked her character, even though she was a little crazy.
Music, Cinematography, and Special Effects
- This is not one of the lushest soundtracks you’ll ever hear, but it does have some genuinely good music. I particularly liked the use of the Spanish guitar. The most important thing about this score is how perfectly it augments the tone of the film.
- The cinematography is fantastic. Allen takes full advantage of his setting, and I might add, the man knows how to shoot his leading ladies.
The Bottom Line
This is a film you watch if you’re in the mood for something other than the usual Hollywood offerings. It’s a charming film, and my favorite of all the Woody Allen films I’ve seen so far. It’s light, it’s funny, it’s different, and most importantly, it’s entertaining. What more could you ask for? 7.5/10