Hit-or-Miss Mastermind Woody Allen Recaptures Genius With Eccentric ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’

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CHICAGO – While legendary writer and director Woody Allen can’t always be equated with sheer genius these days and is more accurately described as a hit-or-miss proposition, the sorely undermarketed and film-festival touring “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” serves as unquestionable retribution for his recently questionable work.

The film, which stars Hollywood sensations Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson and Penélope Cruz, all throughout makes you feel like Allen’s script has something brilliant up its artistic sleeve. While at times you’ll easily predict when sex is on deck, Allen uses “No Country for Old Men” star Javier Bardem literally as his blunt instrument.

Penelope Cruz stars as Maria Elena in Vicky Cristina Barcelona from director Woody Allen
Penélope Cruz stars as María Elena in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” from director Woody Allen.
Photo credit: Victor Bello, The Weinstein Company

In the real world, of course, even a man of his charisma couldn’t walk up to a woman with Scarlett Johansson’s magnetism and lure her into a weekend of bliss and eroticism with these simple words: “We’re getting on my plane in an hour for a weekend of drinking fine wine and making love.”

While Bardem can this time because Allen’s script makes Johansson’s risqué character do it, his true treat is scoring a triple play by convincing Johansson’s rule-driven friend – played by the relatively unknown Rebecca Hall – to seek the same interesting slice of life.

Hall’s character is completely out of character in going along with this ride and is in the process of marrying a man who feels to her much like a sedative.

Javier Bardem (left center) and Scarlett Johansson (right center) star in Vicky Cristina Barcelona from director Woody Allen
Javier Bardem (left center) and Scarlett Johansson (right center) star in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”.
Photo credit: Victor Bello, The Weinstein Company

Amid all the wining and dining, Bardem displays his range as an actor. He puts out of our mind his powerfully villainous character in “No Country for Old Men” and completely transforms himself for Allen’s creation into an artistic, charismatic and confident Spanish lover.

The protagonists, of course, wouldn’t be complete without the antagonistic presence of Penélope Cruz. Despite training rigorously with a teacher and a paintbrush for her painting scenes, though, Cruz still admits to having “faked” these scenes.

In fact, Cruz says in real life she’s a “terrible artist” and is nothing like her “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” character. While she gets by with the brush in the film, it’s not her painting that ultimately slathers herself memorably onto you.

Left to right: Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson and director Woody Allen on the set of Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Left to right on set: Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson and Woody Allen for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”.
Photo credit: Victor Bello, The Weinstein Company

It’s her irate, suicidal and jealous performance that stands out with its emotional and physical carnage. Cruz landed the role of María Elena from director Woody Allen in 40 seconds flat.

Scarlett Johansson’s appearance in the latest Allen work of art is especially his personal joy. Despite appearing in three Allen films in the past three years (“Match Point” in 2005, “Scoop” in 2006 and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” in 2008), Johansson decisively denies being his latest “muse”.

When the subject has come up repeatedly in press junkets for the film, she always says they take pleasure in “having fun” together. The 72-year-old Allen, on the other hand, liberally confesses that the 23-year-old “Lost in Translation” star has often been the muse for many of his latest films.

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StarView our full, high-resolution “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” image gallery.

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Johansson follows in the shadows of actresses and former Allen lovers Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow. Instead of it being Johansson in 2005’s “Match Point,” Allen initially selected British star Kate Winslet.

While Winslet may have gone on to muse Allen thereafter, she pulled out from the 2005 film to spend more time with her children.

Despite its interesting backstory and compelling film story, the whole work of art that is “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” goes somewhat to poop in its anti-climatic ending. You can feel Allen struggling with how to end this fascinating journey. His decision to waiver somewhere in the grey matter of life is a tragically unfulfilling choice.

Had the ending been rewritten, “Vicky Christina Barcelona” would be one of Allen’s finest works without question. Even without the rewrite, though, it stands as one Allen magnum opus nonetheless.

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” which is written and directed by Woody Allen and stars Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson, Penélope Cruz, Rebecca Hall, Patricia Clarkson and Chris Messina, opens on Aug. 15, 2008.

HollywoodChicago.com editor-in-chief Adam Fendelman

By ADAM FENDELMAN
Editor-in-Chief
HollywoodChicago.com
adam@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2008 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com

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