Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Movie Log: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

My wife was very surprised when I told her that Vicky Cristina Barcelona was a Woody Allen movie; her image of him -- and that of most people, I suppose -- is of his "earlier, funny" movies starring himself in a prominent role. But he's been knocking off a movie a year for about three decades now, so I guess he's done a lot of things by this point. (I haven't seen most of those movies; every so often I get the urge to watch my way through the Woodman from the beginning, but that urge has always gone away when I subsequently lie down with a damp towel over my eyes.)

The second surprise of Vicky Cristina Barcelona is how heavily narrated it is; Allen has the voice of Christopher Evan Welch bring us up to speed quickly on the two young women of the title as the movie opens, and his voice returns regularly, to explain what we're seeing or speed through scenes that Allen would rather not dramatize. (I wonder if that narration was in the original script, or if Allen added it afterward -- it feels like an overlay, so it could have been the latter.)

Anyway, Vicky (Rebecca Hall, dark, collected, engaged to be married) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson, blonde, desperately free-spirited and equally desperate to be "artistic") are staying for the summer in Barcelona with a friend of a friend (the wonderful and nearly ubiquitous Patricia Clarkson). Vicky is finishing up a Master's degree she may never use; Cristina is casting about for something to do that would make her special. And, one day, they run into the painter Juan Antonio Gonzalo (Javier Bardem), who throws a hail-Mary double seduction attempt by asking the two of them to fly off with him, on an hour's notice, to a small, gorgeous town he knows to spend the weekend.

And in no movie in the history of the universe does a major international movie star walk up to the leads of the film, make a proposition, and then walk away unfulfilled -- so you can guess what happens next.

Sadly, it doesn't quite go according to Juan's lofty erotic plans -- he was strongly angling to get both of them into bed at the same time, a serious feat even if you do look like Javier Bardem -- but, as the movie goes on, he bags first one and then the other. The rest of the film is the working out of what those trysts actually meant to both of the young women, particularly when Juan's ex-wife, the fiery and homicidal/suicidal (she's tried to kill both herself and Juan) Maria Elena, comes back into his life.

I didn't engage with Vicky Cristina Barcelona the way I think Allen meant me to; I identified early and strongly with Vicky, who struck me as the one grown-up in the movie, and stuck with her even as the movie desperately tried to throw dirt on her choices and worldview. (Her fiancee, Doug, shows up and is soon on a quest to see just how boorish and ugly-American he can be.) I also found Juan to be purely a player -- saying only and entirely what was most likely to get the girls to sleep with him -- until Maria Elena came into the movie, so I had no respect or sympathy for him. (A bit of admiration, sure -- it's a great act, and I'm sure the "fly with me to the real Spain" has bagged him cute American girls by the pair in the past -- but no sympathy.) So I was arguing with the movie for most of the back half, and paying attention to its manipulations rather than being carried along by them.

It's a fine movie, with great performances from its women (Bardem is OK, and Chris Messina does what he can with the stiff-shirted Doug, but the four women do much better work), but it does require a certain romantic tendency in its audience, and that was utterly missing from me.

No comments:

Post a Comment