Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Directed By: Woody Allen

Starring: Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Patricia Clarkson, Kevin Dunn, and Chris Messina

Woody Allen manufactures movies.  He keeps putting out at least one new movie year after year and has been doing this for decades.  As any manufacturer knows, quality control is absolutely critical to putting out a good product. Over the years, one could argue that Woody Allen has had some issues with this critical item.  Every once in a while, however, Allen knocks it out of the park with a movie.  In 2008, Allen hit a homerun with his romantic comedy-drama Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are two American tourists who have just arrived in Barcelona for holiday.  Vicky is a normal, stable adult who lives an ordinary American life.  She's engaged to a businessman named Doug (Chris Messina).  Cristina, on the other hand, is a free spirit.  She has no idea what she wants out of love, or life for that matter.  She just knows what she doesn't want.  While in Barcelona, the two young women are staying with Vicky's relative Judy (Patricia Clarkson) and her husband Mark (Kevin Dunn).

While attending an art exhibition, Vicky and Cristina spot a suave painter named Juan Antonio Gonzalo (Javier Bardem).  While out for dinner later that night, Juan Antonio happens to be dining in the same restaurant and asks the girls to join him for a weekend in the city of Oviedo.  He proposes that they do some sightseeing, have some wine, and make sweet love.  Following her heart instead of her head, Cristina drags a reluctant Vicky to Oviedo.

While there, Cristina gets food poisoning, so Vicky and Juan Antonio spend the weekend together.  During the romantic weekend, Vicky acts on passion and decides to cheat on her fiancée.  She ends up having sex with Juan Antonio.  After she leaves Oviedo, her world has been turned upside down.  She now has fallen for Juan Antonio, and her relationship with Doug may never be the same.  Meanwhile, Cristina begins dating Juan Antonio, but things get complicated when his insane, suicidal ex-wife María Elena (Penélope Cruz) arrives.

The great debate in Vicky Cristina Barcelona is whether decisions of the heart should be prioritized on the basis of stability or passion.  Director Woody Allen builds this debate throughout the romantic comedy-drama with very conflicted, deeply passionate characters dealing with some tough matters of the heart.  It definitely helps that he uses Barcelona as the backdrop for this movie.  There may not be a more romantic city.  He uses the sights to accentuate this as well.  Like any flick in Allen's travel series, you'll get to see some great landmarks like La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell.  With all this in mind, the romantic chemistry throughout Vicky Cristina Barcelona is absolutely palpable. 

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is built entirely around impressive performances from the cast.  Our four main characters bring their absolute best to the film.  As Vicky, Rebecca Hall brings a dignified grace to the screen.  Her character represents sensibility and stability.  Vicky is someone who wants an ordinary comfortable American life.  A lifelong marriage to a guy like Doug is something she's always envisioned for herself.  When Juan Antonio turns Vicky's world upside down, Vicky faces a dilemma of living out her life based on stability or passion.  Doug is stability, while Juan Antonio is passion.  Rebecca Hall must bring this internal conflict to the forefront of her character.  Hall deftly transitions Vicky from a sensible, headstrong woman to an emotionally wounded wreck who internalizes all her problems.  She gives her character the perfect amount of emotional depth.

As Cristina, Scarlett Johansson gives us a sexy, sensual free spirit that doesn't know what she wants and may never know.  She knows she doesn't want what Vicky has with Doug, but she's open to trying new things.  She just goes for what works at the time.  Because she gets food poisoning in Oviedo, her love life doesn't get complicated until María Elena arrives.  For her, a love trio is something that works while it does—nothing more, nothing less.  She's open to sharing a man with another woman.  She's even open to switching sides every once in a while and sleeping with María Elena.  Johansson is the perfect actress to play someone like Cristina.

Javier Bardem's Juan Antonio is definitely a charmer.  This guy comes with no subterfuge whatsoever.  He just walks up to women and says let's get drunk and have sex.  Beyond his inherent charms, he's a deeply passionate character who's seen the ups and downs of true love.  I thoroughly enjoyed Bardem's performance and have to respect his versatility as an actor.  Just a year prior, he was killing everybody in sight with a cattle gun in No Country for Old Men.  He is certainly an actor of many talents.

Penélope Cruz's María Elena is a firecracker.  She's sensual.  She's hilarious.  She's insane.  She's the ultimate free spirit.  Her character adds the extra spice to Vicky Cristina Barcelona that makes it so delightful.  Being involved in some of the tensest, most passionate scenes of the film, Cruz ups the ante to just the right level.  She disturbs the peace in Cristina's love life and takes this film from being just a charming romance in Barcelona to something else entirely.  Cruz's fiery performance helps turn the film into a legitimate discourse on love in all its forms.  With what she brings to the table, it's not a shock that Cruz won an Oscar for the role,

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is one of my favorite romance flicks.  Smartly directed by Woody Allen and skillfully acted by his cast, the film takes us on a love rollercoaster through one of the world's most romantic cities.  This stands as one of the great films of Allen's career and is something you should definitely check out.  Vicky Cristina Barcelona gets a sober rating.  While I am usually inclined to grab some sangria when even thinking about Spain, I didn't need a drop during this flick.