A more appropriate title for this movie would be “Javier Bardem is the luckiest bastard on the face of the Earth”. Not as snappy, I know.
Being a Woody Allen fan is kind of like the cinematic equivalent of being in an abusive relationship. At first, you are swept off your feet by the guy who did Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Take the Money and Run. Then the honeymoon is over, and the guy shows his dark side. He bitch slaps you at first with something like a Small Time Crooks, then apologizes with a Crimes and Misdemeanors. Then he chains you to a radiator and beats you with Scoop and treats you to roses and candy with Match Point. I know I am skipping all around the Woody Allen chronology but FU, I’m trying to make a point here. For every Hannah and her Sisters which makes us like the deadbeat there is a Curse of the Jade Scorpion that smacks us in face and asks “Where’s my Turkey Pot Pie BITCH!”
So is VCB the loving Woody, or the abusive Woody? Sadly it is more the latter. The story is about Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Christina (Scarlett Johansson) going on a trip to Barcelona. Vicky is practical woman (who is engaged to the blandest man on the face of the Earth) who thinks love should be dependable, safe, and without complications (kind of like a truck). Christina is passionate and believes in being adventurous with love. One night, painter Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) approaches them out of the clear blue and asks them to go away with him to have good food, good wine, and lots and lots o’ sex. They agree cause, well, its Javier f*cking Bardem and every woman (if not some men) would jump at the chance for a little love in the time of Cholera. There are also complications because besides boning Vicky and Christina, Juan is also having an on and off relationship with a fiery ex played by Penelope Cruz. Before any of you guys rush off to see universe shattering awesomeness of seeing a three way with Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz, keep in mind the movie is PG-13 and you will never ever see it.
My first problem with VCB is it works against Woody’s strong point which is dialog. Half the movie has no dialog but is instead a dry voice over explaining the action on screen which is almost always redundant. “Vicky and Juan Antonio then had dinner while Christina stayed in her room” while we see Vicky and Juan Antionio sitting at a table eating dinner. I mean, what is the f*cking point of telling me if you are going to show it anyway! The voice over also explains characters motivations like “Vicky is a prude and Christina is passionate”. But even that is redundant as we learn all this from beginning conversations between the two. The whole affair smacks of laziness that Woody could get these points across if he decided to spend a little more time with the character interactions. But it feels like Woody was saying “Aw f*ck it! I’m close to death anyway and I don’t want to spend a few more weeks polishing the writing so I will have lazy voice over explain everyone’s actions.” When we do get actual dialog it is witty an enjoyable. Rebecca Hall, Bardem and Cruz are the strong performers in the film. Cruz especially shows how great an actress she really is when she is not forcing her way through English dialog.
The movie just feels like it is a million miles away from Woody’s usual stuff and that is not a compliment. All of the characters here are impossibly perfect: they are gorgeous, rich, artistic, funny, intelligent, witty, sparkling, and use 50 other adjectives to show how wonderful they really are. They are so perfect that we as the audience really don’t feel like we have a connection with them. We also therefore don’t really feel sympathy for these character’s problems. It is such a departure from Woody’s lovable loser intellectual persona dealing with more grounded relationship problems and issues. The ultimate message for the film seems to be that marriage is a prison and sex with Javier Bardem is the solution to your problems (and I already knew that). As with many movies that aim high but fail in execution, the message is either incredibly simple or really muddled in poor writing. I’m just not sure if Woody was really saying anything more than we need passion in our lives.
This isn’t horrible, but it is not the return to form many are proclaiming it to be. The problem I have always thought with Allen is he rushes his product and never really spends the time to refine his movies. So instead of getting great movies we get good movies instead. VCB just smacks of laziness all around is yet another bad movie from Woody Allen.