Friday, July 1, 2011

Review: Penelope Cruz Rescues Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 56 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Running time: 96 minutes (1 hour, 36 mintues)
MPAA – PG-13 for mature thematic material involving sexuality, and smoking
PRODUCERS: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, and Gareth Wiley
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Javier Aguirresarobe (D.o.P)
EDITOR: Alisa Lepselter
Academy Award winner


Starring: Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Chris Messina, Patricia Clarkson, Kevin Dunn, Pablo Schreiber, Carrie Preston, Zak Orth, Josep Maria Domenech, and Christopher Evan Welch (narrator)

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a 2008 romantic comedy and drama from director Woody Allen. This was also his fourth consecutive film shot outside the United States (beginning with 2005’s Match Point). This Oscar-winning film is the story of two American girlfriends on a summer holiday in Spain who both fall in love with a womanizing Spanish painter.

Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) travel to Barcelona, Spain to spend the summer with Vicky’s distant relatives, Judy (Patricia Clarkson), and her husband, Mark Nash (Kevin Dunn). Vicky is practical and traditional in her approach to love and is preparing to marry Doug (Chris Messina), a well-to-do white collar type. Cristina is non-conformist and spontaneous, but doesn’t know what she’s looking for in love.

Late one night at a restaurant, Juan Antonio Gonzalo (Javier Bardem), an artist, boldly approaches Vicky and Cristina and invites them to spend the weekend in the city of Oviedo with him. Vicky is reluctant, but Cristina is ready to go. Both young women eventually develop strong romantic feelings for Juan Antonio, but in different ways. Neither woman, however, knows that Juan Antonio’s mentally unstable ex-wife, María Elena (Penélope Cruz), is about to re-enter his life.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona received some of the best reviews any Allen film has had the past decade. Penélope Cruz even received a best supporting actress Oscar for her performance as the tempestuous and sometimes violent María Elena. In fact, it is Cruz’s Elena that saves this film. The first 50 minutes are listless, dull, and, in a few places, almost unwatchable. When Elena arrives, this movie perks up and its themes of unhappy marriages, romantic longing, and the search for meaningful, fulfilling relationships suddenly resonate, whereas those themes were hollow and did not feel genuine before the arrival of Elena.

One of Allen’s strengths has been his screenplays, but this one isn’t strong. The dialogue is flat and fake, and the actors, try as they might, cannot make it anything better. Working this poor script causes the actors to give middling performances, except for Cruz. These characters and the subplots all have potential; the screenplay just rushes by them as if they were nothing more than items on a grocery list that just needs to be gotten out the way. Vicky Cristina Barcelona was a successful film for Woody Allen, and I am happy for him as a fan of his work, but I only enjoyed half of this movie. Once again, I credit the lovely and talented Penélope Cruz, who can bring energy even to a limp film like Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

5 of 10

2009 Academy Awards: 1 win: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Penélope Cruz)

2009 BAFTA Awards: 1 win: “Best Supporting Actress” (Penélope Cruz)

2009 Golden Globes: 1 win: “Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical;” 3 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical” (Javier Bardem), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical” (Rebecca Hall), and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Penélope Cruz)

2008 Black Reel Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Supporting Actress” (Penélope Cruz)


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