Monday, August 18, 2008

I Have A (review of) Woody (Allen's latest film)

I had the pleasure last night of taking some time out from my stressful weekend of moving to see Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen's latest film. Being a hardcore Woodyphile, I always make it a point to see his movies on opening weekend if possible, since it tends to enhance my enjoyment. (You know how when you play a song you really like for someone and you can tell they're not enjoying it, so you also don't like it as much at that moment? I'm trying to avoid that.) Anyway, with a few misgivings, I quite enjoyed the film.

A brief plot outline for those who don't know: Two young American women, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlet Johansson) are spending the summer in Barcelona (title already explained!) with a relative of Vicky's (the tragically underused Patrica Clarkson). Vicky values commitment and is engaged to a decent, incredibly boring young man, while Cristina is more free-wheeling and driven by passion. They both fall for local lothario Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), an artist, but it's Cristina who ends up moving in with him. Things seem great until Juan Antonio's slightly unhinged ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz) reenters his life.

Upon a little reflection, I've decided the most appropriate word to describe the movie is realistic. While many of the events that occur are quite fanciful and even improbable, the reactions of the characters always make sense and seem reasonable. It's almost as if Woody decided to take two standard characters (Vicky and Cristina) and two non-standard characters (Juan Antonio and Maria Elena), throw them all together, and see what happens. Although we may be rooting for one outcome due to the way movies have trained us what to expect, Woody gives us what probably would happen if these events actually did occur to these people. It may not be entirely satisfying, but it also gives us a chance for greater identification with the characters. At the end of the film, can many of us really say that we would have been able to do things differently?

Vicky Cristina Barcelona has been the subject of some awards buzz, primarily for Penélope Cruz and for Woody's original screenplay. Penélope is most certainly deserving of consideration; she is fantastic as Maria Elena, never letting the role slip into the caricature it would become in a lesser actress's hands. I formerly was not a huge fan of hers, but after seeing her amazing performances in Volver and now this, I'm converted. I'm a little less enthusiastic about the screenplay; although the writing is very strong at times, I was somewhat put off by the narration. It was overused and somewhat stilting, and ultimately served as more of a distraction than an enhancement. But obviously, as a Woody fanboy, I'll still be rooting for him to get the nom.

In conclusion: Go see Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It's funny, poignant, and interesting, and along with other recent Woody films such as Match Point, it shows that he's still got new and different stories to tell.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Isn't the title brilliant? I hated it at first, and then as soon as the movie was done, I realized how efficient and perfect it is.

As far as it being "realistic," I have to say that I kept thinking that more than in his other recent movies, these characters were actually characters, rather than types. They seemed more fleshed out and developed (like so many characters from his movies a few decades ago). In that way, it feels sort of like Woody has been re-charged by spending so much time filming abroad.

And I'm happy that you have embraced Penelope. She's marvelous. Practically every moment she and Javier Bardem were on screen together was cinematic poetry, I thought.