Woody Allen's exploration of modern romantic misadventures is clever, funny, and filled with engaging characters who are only slightly exaggerated.
Vicky and Cristina decide to spend a summer in Barcelona, and soon they both meet and fall under the spell of the passionate artist Juan Antonio Gonzalo (Javier Bardem). Vicky's brief and unexpected fling with Juan Antonio knocks her world off its axis. Cristina enters into a longer term romance with Juan Antonio, but soon find herself the catalyst in the turbulent reconciliation between Juan Antonio and his former wife, the wild Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz).
As usual, Allen's characters speak the way normal people do, with unsure pauses, irony-free hesitancy, and the seemingly inadvertent stepping on each other's sentences. It's the closest that scripts come to pretending to be ad-libbed, and it immediately elevates Allen's characters closer to real people. Allen also avoids any contrived scenes of high drama and climactic emotions or confrontations, preferring as usual to deploy his low key approach that mimics real life instead of life as Hollywood likes to imagine it.
Vicky and Cristina both go through several turbulent transformations in the movie, and both Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson admirably provide the necessary understated depth to portray, with a mixture of sadness and humour, the upheaval that unexpected love can cause.
Bardem as Juan Antonio is the eye of the hurricane, and therefore does not have to emotionally move very much as chaos reigns around him. Penelope Cruz gets the showiest role as Maria Elena, a joyfully unrestrained force of nature that splatters anyone that surrounds her with a torrent of emotions, raised to the Spanish power.
Allen directs with his usual mix of subdued artistry, allowing the actors to take centre stage while never failing to find the interesting camera angle to remind us of his talent.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona is both enjoyable and captivating, and in the often unimaginative world of manufactured romantic comedies, it's a breath of fresh Mediterranean air.
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