Woody Allen’s 2008 film Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a film with a moral: people do not change. No, let me rephrase that: people cannot change. Films of great depth have been made with premises as simple as that. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is not a film of great depth. Great style? Yes. But not depth. Not that it’s a bad film, but especially compared to some of the masterworks on the human condition that Allen crafted in his 1977-1992 Golden Age (Interiors, Manhattan, Stardust Memories, Another Woman, Crimes And Misdemeanors, to name a few) this film simply is out of its depths.
The biggest reason for its lack of depth, despite its possibly intriguing posit is simply that all the five main characters (and a number of the supporting characters) in the film are stereotypes. The characters played by Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, the divorced couple Juan Antonio and Maria Elena, are double stereotypes: hot blooded Latinos and bad artists who spout clichés and angst — he’s a slimeball user and she’s a psychotic, jealous bitch. The two titular characters, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), are equally stereotypical. Vicky is a bored hausfrau in the making, a drone seeking a useless degree, and Cristina is a terminal ‘Joey’ (see Allen’s Interiors), someone with a desire to express their feelings but no intellect nor talent to do so. In short, she’s a poseur. The fifth and final main character, Doug — Vicky’s fiancé then husband (Chris Messina) — is the prototypical yuppy scum.
Having said that, the lightness (style over substance) of the film actually aids it through its 96 minutes. Compared to an earlier Allen film on young love, like Anything Else, this film at least has its stereotypes utter banalities that are believable for them to think and say. It opens with a voiceover (by Christopher Evan Welch) describing the similarities and differences of the two leads, as they drive to Vicky’s relative’s home, for a summer in Barcelona. Vicky is the drudge and Cristina the free spirit. Vicky believes in solid, dependable love and Cristina will ‘risk all’ for love. Again, not a promising setup, but it would have been much worse if set in Manhattan.
After an art show, the duo is approached by Juan Antonio, who proposes a ménage a trois in a different city, Oviedo. Vicky demurs (with Woody-like bravado) while Cristina accepts, and talks Vicky into going. They take a small plane, and although Cristina decides to sleep with Juan, her ulcer acts up, and despite her protestations, Vicky ends up doing it with Juan — a plot contrivance one could see coming from the first scenes in the restaurant, and the very fact that all women who protest too much about a certain man (at least in poorly written plots) end up actually desiring said man, and losing all sense by having sex with him.