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Ten Word or Less Review: Better than expected Woody Allen movie.

For the first time in a long time, I admire the craft of Woody Allen.  This tired, rehashed, over-discussed, over-the-hill director some how managed to make a movie that feels young, vibrant, romantic and honest.  “Vicky Christina Barcelona” feels like a movie made by a man in the prime of youth, not an over 70 senior long faded from relevance.  “VCB” charts the romantic entanglements of American tourists Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Christina (Scarlett Johansson) as they visit Spain.  The former is an engaged intellectual who dissects life in calculating, rational fashion.  The latter a demanding spirit searching for an unfettered but fulfilling life.  Together they spend a summer in Barcelona where they meet Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a seemingly clichéd artist/intellectual/seducer who quickly moves past pretense and engages them both emotionally and sexually.  Throw into the mix his very unbalanced ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) and the stage is set for a uniquely frustrating but lively movie that one could hardly expect from a senior citizen.

With its pseudo-intellectual characters, convenient narration, and picturesque travelogue settings, “Vicky Christina Barcelona” could initially be confused as nothing more than a filmed vacation for director Allen and his cast.  No one is more known for coasting on the kudos of past success than Allen.   “VCB’s” story conflict seems at first conceited and arrogantly high minded.  There’s little at stake but the romantic inclinations of two pretty but frustratingly dull American girls.  As it plays out, a more meaningful sense of relevance begins to take hold and we find ourselves entwined.  A wild but loving relationship develops between Bardem, Johansson and Cruz while Hall struggles with commitment to a man she’s talked herself into loving out of rationality. Allen constructs all of his creations as simple clichés who gradually rise above their easily knowable origins.  We watch these characters evolve from semi-contemptible types into more complex and compassion worthy human beings.

Though Hall and Johansson both deserve credit for making things work better than expected, Bardem and Cruz hold the film up a few notches more than perhaps it deserves.  The two play a divorced couple nearly incapable of civility or rationality.  At constant, almost violent odds with one another, Cruz and Bardem ratchet up the emotional intensity of everything by multiples.  What was once a pleasant, mildly insightful relationship picture becomes feverish and angry in its second half.  Cruz finds herself in an American movie which doesn’t squander her talents, while Bardem, now well known for the shadow of his “No Country for Old Men” persona, shows he’s capable of convincing romantic notes.  The two deserve a movie all their own.

As “VCB” winds down, a stunningly honest current develops.  One not pursued because it’s a movie but because it’s what the story demands.  In short, Allen doesn’t cop out and lie to us about what happens to these people just to make us feel better.  As a director, Allen has spent much of the past decade feeling like a useless has been.  Suddenly freed from his usual New York trappings, his spirit feels released and unfettered.  He had something vital to explore and his movie feels young in spirit because of it.  Most directors his age often dwell on the twilight aspects of age like growing old, driving slow or just dropping dead.  “Vicky Christina Barcelona” is a movie which slowly reveals a man reinvigorated.  Here’s hoping that Allen maintains that spirit.

Related To:  Good Woody Allen movies.

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2 Comments

  1. I may make this one now. I have never been a Woody Allen fan though, but I will give him a chance.

  2. “Match Point” is the go to Woody Allen movie for people who don’t like Woody Allen.


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