Wednesday 4 November 2009

Review: Vicky Christina Barcalona

Year: 2008 (U.K release 2009)
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Rebecca Hall

Synopsis is here

Woody Allen is a director I admire for a few reasons, but one thing that always gets me is effort. Now, drifting into his 70's Allen is still consistently making product (still one film a year) drenched in themes that mean the most to him. However, the successful merge of critical and commercial plaudits have managed to escape him for the most part. With Vicky Christina Barcelona Allen manages to grab back some of the praise that has been missing for the most part of his latter career (not like that's what drives him of course.).

Picking up an Oscar (Penelope Cruz in a spicy supporting role), Vicky Christina Barcalona is a bright and breezy affair that once again delves into the complexities of love and logic that Allen enjoys toying with. It's a film that's relatively sharp and is in love with it's surrounding. For the most part, it's an entertaining movie. It's a pity that Allen has decided to go with the idea of having the story narrated throughout the whole movie. The narration (Voiced by Christopher Evan Welch) is one of the worst decisions considered by a filmmaker who is usually a little more savvy in his judgment.

The film's narration brings down a lot of what makes the film interesting. Instead of characters displaying their emotions, we are patronizingly told by a narrator who has no qualms about stating the obvious as well as ruining the films more delicate moments. This turns the movie into a kind of "Woody Allen for dummies" in which you don't have to use your brain to process the movie as everything is laid out on a plate. The drab statements made on the films scenes are made worse due to the fact that they're not even amusing. It's bad enough that they wreck some of the character interplay but at least be funny!

It's not all bad as Allen fills the screen not only with the gorgeous scenery but with attractive performances from the films leads. The film plays with the idea that we as human beings may not be as grounded in our monogamous lifestyles as we think. While on paper the peculiar love square comes across as ridiculous but the choice of cast and their charm make it work. Bardem's voice is full of seductive promise, while Cruz is the perfect destructive foil for their relationships gone wrong. My favorite performance comes from Rebecca Hall who manages to sneak in the "Allen" neurotic turn under the guise of an uptight culture student. Placing all the hang-ups upon her is the best move of the film. Scarlett Johansson whose been slowly picking some dubious choices as of late (He's not that into you, The fucking Spirit) picks up her game slightly but unfortunately seems to be resigned to merely being the eye candy.

Direction-wise Allen is still a solid craftsman, with the films story being an entertaining (if a little fluffy) one. It's also good to see the director branching out to different locations in his later years (I haven't seen his London excursions as of yet) as the change of scenery really does his ideas good. From a writing point of view his screenplay (narration aside) still has an ear for what sounds good in peoples mouths and while some may complain that these characters are "wordy", the actors once again make sure it doesn't sound too out of place.

Despite having the film speaking to me as if I'm some sort of child, Vicky Christina Barcelona is still a lively piece of work from a man who will never stop to take a break. Lets hope that his upcoming "whatever works" manages to keep up the trend. Lets just hope that we get show and not tell.