The things Allen gets truly right in VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA stem from two of his classic strengths as a director, storytelling and characters. Narration is a tricky thing to pull off but here Allen uses it in a simple and straightforward approach that gives the film the feel of an engrossing short story, helping it to unfold naturally and not at hurried or lagging pace. The characters (for the most part) are strongly written and relatable in each of their respective situations. The lessons of life and love learned here can only come from experience and it feels like each of these characters has that beyond what we see on screen.
Javier Bardem comes off his Oscar win here with a role tailor made for his suave Spanish sensibilities. I say tailor made because Bardem is a talented enough performer to pull off the macho Spanish lover persona, and then go and back it up with a soulful motivation that makes you like the guy for exactly what he is. As much as Scarlett Johansson has been called Woody’s muse, her character feels like something of an afterthought here. She is an important piece of the equation no doubt, but her persona seemed not as explored or interesting as the other female characters experiencing similar things. Rebecca Hall especially is stronger as an actress and a character in the film, going through typical feelings of marital ennui unique and interesting to this particular story. Penelope Cruz has a smaller role but is powerful enough to steal the majority of the movie as a crazy, jealous but likable ex-lover. Oscar nomination worthy probably, but I don’t see her taking home the statue.
Extra Tidbit: The film also boasts a great soundtrack. Fans of Spanish guitar music will want to pick up this eclectic mix of tunes.