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Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

ADMITTEDLY, a return to any sort of form wouldn’t require much from Woody Allen given the lacklustre – and even straight-to-DVD – nature of some of his more recent movies (Cassandra’s Dream, Match Point and Scoop).

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a lot better than any of those previous efforts, but it still falls some way short of being really good contrary to what a lot of critics are saying.

Fun in places, and benefitting from its strong cast and sunny locations, the film is nevertheless a fickle journey that’s instantly forgettable and occasionally tiresome.

American friends Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are on holiday in Barcelona when they meet cavalier painter Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a carefree spirit who invites the women to join him for a threesome moments after meeting them.

Slowly, both women find themselves seduced by his charms and enjoy an unlikely relationship with him until the arrival of his unstable ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), threatens to completely upset the apple cart.

At its core, Allen’s latest offers a fun meditation on romance from the perspective of the head and the heart. Whereas Johansson’s Cristina is as carefree and open to new possibilities as Juan Antonio, Hall’s Vicky is more cautious and about to be wed to a safe-bet of a husband.

Juan Antonio’s presence is like a whirlwind in both women’s lives, shaking up everything they thought they knew about life and each other… but the arrival of Cruz’s unhinged Maria Elena threatens to take them into darker places.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is fun while keeping things light and flirty, benefiting from a tremendously charismatic performance from Bardem, and a show-stopping supporting performance from Cruz.

But it runs out of steam when tackling the more weighty issues, stretching credibility and threatening to get lost in its own arty pretensiousness.

Johansson, too, emerges with very little credit, proving the blandest of the four performers in spite of her supposedly carefree spirit. When the film dwells on her character, it sags.

Hall, though, adds to the good work she’s already done in Frost/Nixon, while there’s typically reliable support from Patricia Clarkson.

Allen, too, ensures the love he feels for the Spanish landscapes translates well to the audience, and seems to have partially rediscovered his ability to deliver a witty line.

But those expecting a return to the type of classic he regularly delivered in his early, formative days could well leave disappointed.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is fun, frivolous but ultimately vacuous.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 96mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: June 22, 2009