Feb 18, 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona [15]

Dir: Woody Allen
Most of Woody Allen’s films are, these days, hailed as a return to form, and so has been the case with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a Spanish set love quadrangle involving the romantic entanglements of an extremely photogenic cast. If this, though, constitutes a return to form then Cassandra’s Dream must have been a low of such staggering depths that it beggars belief.

In a directorial career now spanning more than 40 years Allen has had several muses, but none with whom his infatuation is as puzzling as Scarlett Johansson, oh she’s pretty enough, but it becomes clearer with each passing movie that she just can’t act. As Cristina, the flighty, flirty counterpart to Rebecca Hall’s staid, engaged Vicky, Johansson is as one note as ever, drawing out her dialogue in a dull monotone and exhibiting little chemistry with either Javier Bardem or Penelope Cruz. The rest of the cast show Johansson up, particularly British actress Rebecca Hall, who I’ve had my eye on since The Prestige, whose Vicky is the most three dimensional person in the movie. She’s got the same terrible, unbelievable, dialogue as everyone else, but she delivers it in a note perfect Yank accent, and creates most of the films few genuinely resonant emotional moments.

Penelope Cruz’ much praised and Oscar nominated performance as Bardem’s former wife, Maria Elena is big and loud, it screams ‘notice me, throw awards at me’ and yet it’s all dazzle, there’s nothing behind it. This isn’t strictly her fault, because she’s fighting against a character that is nothing more than a scantily clad male fantasy, but she doesn’t bring anything to the table either. Bardem, given his status as an attractive prop, is about as good as could be expected, he does bleed charisma, but any and all good work is undone by the awful, awful writing.

Woody Allen used to be funny, more than that though he used to have something to say. Here there’s not one laugh, but worse, because it tries at every turn to do so, Vicky Cristina Barcelona has nothing to say. It’s loaded with pronouncements on the human condition and relationships, but none actually offers any insight, and none seems anything other than a badly written line, designed to hammer home a point. Worst, though, is an appalling voiceover, which spews endless tedious drivel in a life sapping monotone, it sounds like a DVD commentary in which all the director is managing to do is tell you what’s happening on screen, and is written like a novel you attempted when you were 15, then stuck in a drawer praying nobody would ever see it. It’s both incredible and deeply sad that this came from the same pen that gave us Manhattan (a film that says more in one frame than Vicky Cristina Barcelona does in 96 interminable minutes).

It’s a nice looking film, you have to give Allen that, but you’d have to try very hard to make this cast and this city look anything other than stunning. Otherwise this banal, boring, predictable, pretentious little film is yet another embarrassment to be swept under a carpet positively bulging from hiding Woody Allen’s bad movies.

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