Vicky Cristina BarcelonaWhen Vicky Cristina Barcelona won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical, I felt like Woody Allen had pulled a fast one on the Hollywood Foreign Press Association by slipping a drama with a few diverting scenes into a category otherwise filled with actual comedies (and the musical Mamma Mia!). Although certainly not a heavy drama like The Reader or Revolutionary Road, it seems to me that if this very same film had borne the name of any directory besides the prolific Allen, it probably wouldn’t have qualified for the comedy shelf. But it does boast the Woody Allen pedigree (made especially clear through the inclusion of his current muse Scarlett Johansson) and thus it is now also boasts the 2009 Best Comedy Golden Globe.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona opens with a voice-over introducing us to all three of the titular characters – childhood friends Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Johansson) and the beautifully lavish city of Barcelona, where the two friends will be spending the summer. The narrator spends a good deal of time setting the stage – Vicky (the serious, more prudish one) will be working on her Master’s degree over the summer while Cristina (the slightly delusional filmmaker looking for love) will be exploring the city. The two quickly meet the artist Juan Antonio Gonzalo (a smoldering Javier Bardem), who invites them to accompany him on a private plane to look at some artwork and perhaps engage in a threesome. As the story unfolds, we discover that Gonzalo is broken-hearted over a recent violent split-up with his wife Maria Elena (the fiery, and oh-so-deserving of an Oscar nomination, Penelope Cruz at her best).

The crux of the film seems to have something to do with love, relationships, and finding what works for you as an individual. I wouldn’t say that Allen makes an especially diligent attempt to explore these topics throughout the course of the film, but he really doesn’t need to. Bardem and Cruz are so electric that any time they’re on screen the film is instantly intriguing and downright impressive. Johansson makes a showing, but at times it’s tough to know how much of her character is an acting choice and how much is happening accidentally. Though still enjoyable to watch, Johansson doesn’t seem cut out to play a lighthearted free spirit, and Allen seems unwilling to either expose the irony behind Cristina’s characterization or explore that particular facet of her personality. Rebecca Hall, largely unmentioned in the press for the film, successfully navigates the dangerous water of various relationship-oriented questions and comes out on the other end with a character that should land her some meaty roles in the future.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona starts out promisingly enough, seeming to offer a light, comedic skewering of bourgeois society and their delicate personal lives, however it quickly starts to feel self-indulgent and slightly pretentious. By the end of the film, what could have been a moving presentation of modern-day romance has become a quickly forgettable dramedy marketed with a lesbian kissing scene.  There are many ways to explain how the film almost succeeds, but Kenneth Turan from the Los Angeles Times has already said it best: “Vicky Cristina Barcelona is too intent on being taken seriously to be more than mildly diverting.”

Zach’s Rating: B-
Perfect For: Woody Allen fans looking to see the director further expand his repertoire away from his typical neuroticism
Stay Away if: You’re expecting either a deeply moving or deeply comedic film experience
Interesting side note: Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson costarred in The Prestige

To purchase Vicky Cristina Barcelona, visit Amazon

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