The 21st century for Mr. Woody Allen as a filmmaker has been patchy to say the least. There have been a couple in this current era that have been decent (Melinda and Melinda and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion come to mind), but the majority of them have been mediocre or, on occasion, pretentious disappointments (Match Point). One would expect that since this is the man who gave us such greats as Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah and Her Sisters, a return to form is inevitable.
It's very pleasing to see the clever, funny, and extremely well written Vicky Cristina Barcelona bring Allen back on form. It seems that a complicated story has been his downfall over the last few years (the biggest example being the mentioned Match Point), evidenced by how well the simple story works here. It gives us a chance to get to know the characters, get taken in by the flowing dialogue, and enjoy just what that comedic/romantic mind of Mr. Allen still has to offer us without any fuss.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona follows two young women, one very traditional (Vicky, played by Rebecca Hall) and one more free spirited (Cristina, played by Scarlett Johansson), who decide to visit and spend a summer in Barcelona. Soon after they arrive, they meet a charming painter named Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who seduces them into going to a small, nearby island for the weekend. As they both become enamoured with him in their own ways, they are unaware that his ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), with whom he has a tempestuous relationship, is about to come back into his life.
The film’s simple structure and story could very well be a bit underwhelming or even disappointing to anyone more accustomed to the more eventful motion picture. However, the film celebrates the wonder of simplistic storytelling, the kind where the story is really just the backdrop for the characters and dialogue. And it's in these two areas that Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a success, not only because of the elements themselves, but how they work in tandem with one another.
The characters are introduced plainly and simplistically, as is the story. Two women, both very much opposite in how they look at life and love, are to spend a summer in Barcelona, but it's when they are approached rather brazenly by Juan that things really get interesting. His character is simply the master of seduction, a guy who knows exactly what he's doing when it comes to words and how he says them.