Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cruz Crushin' - Part 1

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Release: 08.15.2008
Rated PG-13
1 hour, 36 minutes

Full Price ($$$$) <
> Matinee ($$$)


Before I begin, I mu
st admit that I never really warmed up to Penélope Cruz until I saw her in Volver. Since then, my appreciation has increased, especially after seeing her portray two very different women in two films in the span of one weekend. Hence, this review is titled Cruz Crushin', Part I. Yeah, Hence.


Woody Allen (Match Point) brings to the screen his latest project, which centers around best friends Vicky (Rebecca Hall, The Prestige) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson, Scoop) as they summer in Barcelona, Spain. Sensible Vicky is there to study for her masters in Catalan identity. Bohemian Cristina tags along, searching for her artistic voice and whatever will excite her in life. That excitement introduces himself as painter Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men) and offers to fly the women to Oviedo where they can wine, dine and make with the sex. Vicky is insulted, Cristina titillated at Juan's sincere offer. Ultimately, the trio take flight and the inclusion of Juan Antonio rattles the ladies' plans, especially when his ex-wife Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz, Volver) and Vicky's fiancé (Chris Messina, Rounders) unexpectedly infringe on their holiday.

If it acts like Woody Allen and sounds like Woody Allen, should I feel guilty that I enjoy it more when it doesn't look like Woody Allen? The dialogue is unmistakably Allen despite his absence from the screen. Hall and Johansson take turns emoting the nervously neurotic inflections of the director. Bardem and Cruz give the words a natural heat; the two ooze sexuality even though reading from Allen's script. I have to mention Patricia Clarkson (Married Life), who appears briefly as Judy, an old family friend who encourages the ladies to enjoy all Barcelona has to offer.

Allen also wisely chooses to focus on the beautiful landscapes and architecture of Barcelona. The cinematography is warm and inviting, probably the best tourist commercial the City could hope to have. Thoughtful discussions of love, loyalty and human nature fit appropriately against the romantic backdrop.

However, the narration does not seem to fit, if you ask some people. I quickly grew accustomed to the omnipotent narrator filling in the story gaps, but wasn't quite sold on the 60's era educational inflection. My wife, on the other hand, had no qualms with it. To each their own, I say. The narration is only a small element to this easily approachable film.

Dirty Undies
It'd be stiff competition for sexiest performance between Vicky, Cristina, Juan Antonio and Maria Elena (no pun intended). Bardem's eyes express an intense passion and just watching him swagger into a scene will make one swoon. Cruz may play a crazy lady, but her frank and honest attitude shows even as she sits spread-legged or tosses her lion's mane of jet black hair about.

I can't help but wonder if Allen isn't piecemeal pimping Ms. Johansson to audiences. She's been oiled up bareback (Match Point), lifted wet and shimmering from the pool (Scoop), and here she not only has rather liberal sexual relations with her Spanish friends, but nearly exposes her ample breasteses to the world. I figure at this rate she'll be fully nude by their fifth collaboration. If it's for our benefit, great. If it's for his benefit, Soon-Yi best keep an eye out!

The Money Shot
Vicky Cristina Barcelona is exactly that, a film about two women lost in the alluring fantasy of a beautiful City - even if only for a short time. Like a romantic evening, it's full of tasty treats and warm lighting; there's great conversation and some anxiety; and there's a little sexual exploration before reality returns.

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  1. When I saw this movie, I couldn't believe how French New Wave Allen went. You're right, it didn't feel like him.

    But I'm personally glad he left himself out of the movie. His once, hilarious improv antics have gone off-pitch and wouldn't let me enjoy Scoop.

  2. I liked Scoop mostly, but Woody got in the way of it being great.