The film begins and continues with a narrator. Other than the name Chuck Norris in the opening credits, there is nothing that makes me cringe in dreaded anticipation more than voice-over. If I had wanted a novel on tape, I would have gone to the Bend Library. I was glad that VCB didn't have Allen the actor in it. He has become a sad caricature of himself. But there he was, taking over an early scene in a restaurant. The character Vicky, played by the Brit actress Rebecca Hall, was doing Woody better than Soon-Yi ever could. She had the same lines, tensions, the facial expressions, the fears, constrained tone, and probably the same NY shrink. Ten minutes, and the movie was burdened with a monotone narrator filling in this sketchy New Yorker short story pretending to be a movie, and a tall, female version of Allen. I moved against the wall separating my theater from the one showing Mamma Mia and pressed my ear deep into the dried popcorn oil stains in the hope that Meryl Streep's wailing ABBA tunes would drown out the nonsense Allen was forcing his actors to inflict on the six of us in the auditorium. I longed to be in the next theater with the middle-aged, cat-owning women singing along with Meryl and Pierce.
I eventually overcame Hall's imitation of Allen to marvel at her perfect American accent and ability to play a short, neurotic New Yorker, even at 5'9". Patricia Clark was perfect in her limited screen time playing a woman trapped in a loveless life of quiet desperation. Scarlett Johansson, I think she was saying something but I'm sorry. Anytime she's on the screen, I have this humming in my ears, and breathing and time both stop.
Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz were the revelations for me in this movie. I think they could read food labels and make you cry and laugh. The best scenes were those between Cruz and Bardem in Spanish. Perhaps Woody should have done the movie in Spanish with English subtitles, or just forget the subtitles and save most of us suffering through the dialogue that was mainly echoes of earlier Allen films.
If there is one lesson to learn from this movie, it's to never make Penelope Cruz angry. I know she was acting, but she must have some real life issues and demons to draw upon. She scared me. The best scene in the movie was one between Cruz and Bardem arguing in Spanish in the middle of a Barcelona alley. Unlike most of Allen's movie, it seemed authentic.
If there are two lessons to learn from this movie, the second is that the Woodman needs to put away his Smith-Corona and never write again. He can still direct. His framing of scenes and his gentle movement with a camera is distinctive and hypnotic in that New York City art gallery way.
If Allen won't stop writing, I have one piece of advice: more ABBA songs.
Vicky Christina Barcelona ★✩✩✩✩
Starring Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, Rebecca Hall. Directed by Woody Allen. Rated PG-13