Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Woody Allen weaves a tale of love & lust

Two young Americans spend a summer in Spain and meet a flamboyant artist (Javier Bardem) and his beautiful but insane ex-wife (Penelope Cruz) in Vicky Christina Barcelona. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is straight-laced and about to be married. Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) is a sexually adventurous free spirit. When they all become amorously entangled, the results are both hilarious and harrowing.
A four-way romance between Penélope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, and Javier Bardem, is a flatfooted tour of female dissatisfaction. Vicky (Hall) and Cristina (Johansson) are American abroad in Spain for the summer. Like a nature host, Christopher Evan Welch narrated their inner lives before either breaks the seal on her lip-gloss. Brunette Vicky is the brains—a master’s student certain she’s making the smart move in marrying a stable, well-connected, well-off young businessman (Chris Messina). Blonde Cristina is busting with emotions, unfounded artistic ambitions, and little else save ScarJo’s ripe natural gifts. She does for loose tank tops what Lana Turner did for sweaters. Allen has said he loves writing roles for the bombshell and he’s done those talents justice by casting her as a bad actress living her life like a role on an outré soap opera. When a confident painter named Juan Antonio (Bardem) struts up to their dinner table and insists that both meet him at the airport in an hour for a weekend holiday where they’ll delight in food, wine, culture, and each other (“Life is short, life is dull!” he enthuses), Cristina leaps aboard and despite Vicky’s damned sensible refusal, she buckles in eventually to keep her friend safe. The girls have a merited debate about Bardem’s attractiveness. Allen considers Juan Antonio a candid romantic. Still, both wind up in bed with him and Cristina moves in. Vicky Cristina Barcelona kicks with naïve Johansson headed for ruin. Neither ingénue’s romance is enough to carry the film. We’re anxiously awaiting the long-hyped entrance of Cruz as Bardem’s tempestuous ex-wife, the suicidal one who stabbed him for cheating and is so erotically charged even his father (Josep Maria Domènech) cops to sexy daydreams of his former daughter-in-law. Cruz detonates the film, drawing the unspoken complications in to glaring focus as she smokes, glares, and freely admits her thoughts of killing her romantic rivals. Johannson is America’s pinup—the clean, soft blonde—but over her decade and a half career, Cruz has sharpened into a different beast entirely, a fierce man-eater who disdains her prey. As soon as she enters the picture, Johansson’s watery artist is forced to shift gears from free spirit to doting mom, Woody’s savviest observation of the roles women adopt in competition. Christina changes the most throughout the film. She starts out a loving and giving romantic but eventually comes to question if she is ready for the chaos of Juan’s love life. Allen’s screenplay reveals Juan’s personality slowly, peeling away layers that alternate between complete devotion and the childlike selfishness of a man who unknowingly take from those to whom he is closest. Many people will see this film based on the combination of Woody Allen and Javier Bardem alone. Putting that aside, Bardem and Johansson are both simply outstanding. For anybody who was terrorized by him in "No Country" this is a must see. Between those three films he has established himself as one of the best in the business. Johansson was great, again, but probably will not get nominated for the Oscar, again, because she didn't get enough lines. Go and see this one if not for the Cruz/Johansson kiss alone! A risky 4 on my "Go See" scale.

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