On the surface, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" did little to interest me. A story of two women falling in love with the same man while spending the summer in an exotic locale (Barcelona, Spain in this case) sounds like it's treading pretty typical romantic comedy territory. The nondescript name — I wouldn't name a movie "Joel David Boise," for example — probably won't draw a lot of people in, either.
What will draw them in to this Woody Allen film (released Tuesday on DVD) is the staggering number of awards and critical praise it's received (it took home a Golden Globe award for "Best Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical, and Penélope Cruz is up for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as the jilted, emotionally unstable ex-wife). While I'm not sure it's worthy of all the hype it's received, it is considerably more fun and surprising to watch than the typical Meg Ryan/John Cusack romantic comedy.
Not that "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is really a romantic comedy, mind you. There are elements of both romance and humor, for sure, but it's more of a human interaction piece that explores the "what ifs" of life's normally unexplored relationships ("What if I invite this person to dinner, even if I'm in a committed relationship with another person?").
See if you can follow: Two girlfriends (Vicky — Rebecca Hall and Cristina — Scarlett Johansson) go to Barcelona to spend the summer. They meet a Spanish guy (Juan Antonio — Javier Bardem), who promptly invites them to fly with him to another exotic locale, where they'll wine, dine and have relations. The girls go with the man, both developing feelings for him. Upon return to Barcelona, the man's ex-wife (Cruz) enters the picture and things get even hairier than they do when two best friends fall for the same man. Love triangles abound.
With its quirky, wine-enhanced take on relationships, "Vicky Cristina" a "Sideways" from a woman's perspective, or a more upbeat and likable "Lost in Translation."
All four actors are in fine, if unspectacular, form. Bardem makes for a sophisticated, sensitive womanizer of sorts (very unlike his award-winning role as a bloodthirsty psycho with a bad haircut in "No Country for Old Men"), Hall is believable as a typical American woman having second thoughts about her life with a safe, pleated khaki-wearing man, and Johansson is seductive as a risk-taking, artsy female looking for an uncertain something more out of life. The city of Barcelona is beautifully shot as a romantic location prime for lovers' quarrels. The film has a very prevalent but unpretentious European feel to it.
Cruz is on equal footing as the unpredictable, more-than-slightly crazed ex-wife, Maria Elena, who isn't sure she's willing to let her "ex" status come in the way of her relationship with Juan Antonio. She's fine, but not Oscar material by my standards. Her attention here could very well be more attributed to the director's name than her actual performance.
Her performance is kind of like "Vicky Cristina" as a whole. It's not the best thing ever and probably a bit on the overrated side, but you could do a lot worse watching human relationships play out onscreen.
Joel Sensenig is news editor of the Review Times. After further consideration, he thinks "Joel David Boise" would have potential, depending on the direction the screenwriters take it.