At 73 years of age, and still churning out at least one film a year, it’s safe to say that Woody Allen doesn’t believe in quality over quantity. There’s no denying that Annie Hall and Manhattan are masterpieces, but his worthwhile efforts are getting fewer and further between as he ages. Luckily for 2008, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is his best work in a decade, only rivaled by 2005’s Match Point.
Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), two friends with polar opposite personalities, decide to spend a soul-searching summer in Barcelona. Vicky is engaged and knows exactly what she wants out of life. Cristina, on the other hand, is a wanderer, only aware of what she doesn’t want in her life. One evening, the girls have a chance encounter with Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a local painter who bluntly asks them to join him for a hedonistic weekend of wine, sight-seeing, and sex. Vicky is appalled and Cristina is excited, and when the adventure-seeking Cristina wins out, the threesome embarks on an unpredictable and life-altering journey.
Using beautiful Barcelona as his canvas, Allen crafts a funny and intelligent film about, what else, the nature of love. He’s done it all before: portraying young, pretty, and overly neurotic artists involved in love triangles/squares/pentagons. But it works, and this time, as opposed to most of his recent retreads, there’s something refreshing about it. The romantic atmosphere provided by the quaint villas, seascapes, and artistry of Barcelona seem to do wonders for Allen’s tale, as nothing seems too rehashed. As usual though, Allen’s knack for creating complex and likeable characters is the driving force behind his film. Bardem is fantastic as the charismatic and intelligent Juan Antonio, a man who’s passionate about love, life, and his work. Hall and Johansson are also solid as the two female leads, but when the film begins to lull in the middle section, it’s rescued by a spunky Penelope Cruz as Juan Antonio’s ex-wife Maria Elena. She’s foul, vibrant, and complete crazy in giving the film the legs to make it to the finish line. It seems unlikely that Woody intended for Bardem and Cruz steal the show from Hall and Johansson, but it nonetheless enhances the dynamic between the foursome. Overall, the ensemble cast is nearly perfect, and definitely the movie’s biggest strength.
The thing about Allen films is that everyone finds a bit of themselves in at least one of his characters, and that’s really what elevates Vicky Cristina Barcelona - it portrays real people with real problems. Whether it’s Juan Antonio’s struggle to maintain a marriage with the woman he loves or Cristina’s inability to decipher what she truly wants, the issues are straight out of every day relationships. And while the film never really offers any solutions, it’s fun to watch Maria Elena swear her head off in Spanish while Juan Antonio tries to control her as Cristina looks on in horror. Of course, there’s also a lesbian scene and a ménage a trios, so at the very least, Vicky Cristina Barcelona has the goods to keep you entertained for two hours.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona will make you laugh, feel sorry for it’s characters, and ponder about life in general. Though the film will challenge you briefly, in the end, it’s light and humorous enough to leave you contently amused, albeit a little concerned for your love life.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona's Blu-ray transfer is quite good, with beautiful Barcelona almost beckoning for you in all its hi-def glory. Most scenes are bright and well lit, so there's never and grain, and I really didn't notice anything other than how good it looks. Woody's films don't usually blow you away with their sound, so the audio tracks aren't a factor here. As for special features, there's absolutely nothing. Allen doesn't believe in Special Features, and I'm guessing that's because as soon as he wraps a film, he goes straight into the next one.
I'm torn; I want to recommend a purchase, because Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a good film that looks great on Blu-ray, but its lack of any extra material is somewhat of a problem. So I'm going to play it safe and say that for any fan of Woody Allen, this is a must own, and for everyone else it's merely a must rent.