Saturday, August 16, 2008

Review: "Vicky Christina Barcelona"

I saw "Vicky Christina Barcelona" at the Downer in Milwaukee. There was a bit of a problem with the projector in the beginning; first the picture was squished, then too small, then there was this irritating blue line...idk. Anyway, I felt very passionate about this poor customer service situation, and I was determined to ask for my money back or to complain to the manager as soon as the movie was done. I didn't, however, do either of those things, and I'll tell you why: "Vicky Christina Barcelona" was so very fun and delightful that, well, I completely forgot.

Woody Allen always makes good movies. He is a tremendous filmmaker, one of those writers with a flare for the neurotic, a director who loves his actors. "VCB" was not as good as "Match Point," but it was in a similar vein. It focuses on human nature, how we tend toward the things we want, even if subconsciously, and how the things we want are either right in front of us or perpetually out of reach. It's about how human beings want everything, how we want everything to be the way that we want it to be, and we don't want guilt when it's over, just to feel free, let go, open, and new. How many times have I taken a look at my life and feared that it's flying too quickly? That I'm not living to my fullest potential? Wondering if there's a way I could liberate myself from the societal standards to which we all succumb? I found myself relating to Christina, Scarlet Johanssen's character, and the way that she is constantly searching, how she gets settled into one thing, says there for a while, only then to be plagued with a kind of restlessness, a dreaded yet unavoidable feeling that comes in intermittent waves.

"VCB" does not really have a plot. It is driven by its characters, how they look at and think of one another, how they're affected by the people and situations around them, of the past, the present, and the future. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Christina are young, seemingly high society women that have run off to Barcelona in the last months before Vicky's wedding. Vicky is to marry Doug (Chris Messina), the kind of Manhattan yuppy who wears velvet slippers with his boxer shorts, the kind of guy who is able to coast blissfully through life without really thinking about anything. Albeit, he is a nice guy, and he loves Vicky, and she loves him, too...I think. Anyway, she and Christina are approached by the enigmatic artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) who presents them with a daunting proposition: Go to Oviedo with him, drink wine, see sights, and make love. Christina, the childish one, the carefree college grad who is struggling to find her voice, agrees right away, but Vicky takes some convincing. She is the Wood Allen character. She is the neurotic one with a million theories and anal tendencies, and she puts up a convincing argument. She loses, however, and the girls go to Oviedo. Many things happen: beautiful things, sexy things, surprising things with fanciful outcomes. For a while, "VCB" feels like an old movie. Bardem is the dashing Spaniard with no ulterior motives, just a view that life has no purpose but to live. Vicky and Christina are his muses, both very different in both the ways that he loves them and the ways that they love him back.

This is all wonderful, but my favorite part of the movie is Penelope Cruz. Cruz plays Maria Elena, Juan Antonio's vivacious ex-wife who, I guess, once tried to kill him. She is a totally unexpected actress. She's so beautiful. It's a fierce beauty. One would never know she was so talented at just a single glance. But she is wonderful. In the movie, Maria Elena tries to kill herself and, for a time, lives in a strange, somehow pragmatic threesome with Juan Antonio and Christina. Cruz snarls her lines like a lioness, a perfect counter to the nonchalance of Bardem. I'd even go so far as to say that, should there be a shortage of good supporting work this Oscar season, she could easily snag a nod.

This is a good movie: snappy, complete, even a bit old fashioned. It's like a pleasant escape.

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