You’ve probably heard this before: how Woody Allen is back on track with his best since the 20th Century. You’ve might have believed it too, gone in hopeful and emerged sadder and wiser.
So here’s a review you can believe: Vicky Cristina Barcelona isn’t grade A Manhattan Allen, but it’s good enough to make you forgive and forget Cassandra’s Dream and other recent embarrassments.
Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are spending the summer in Barcelona. Vicky is pretty and sensible – and engaged to be married – while Cristina is sexy and impetuous.
Enter Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a famous artist, who invites them for a weekend of good food, sightseeing and making love. Vicky is outraged but tags along – a decision that will undermine her life.
Even so, it’s Cristina who moves in with him, and who is eventually drawn into a bohemian ménage à trois with his unstable ex, Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz).
If the characters start off as easily identifiable ‘types’, they quickly take on more depth. Allen responds to Barcelona with the same romantic enthusiasm he once found in New York.
Hall and Johansson are dominated by knockout performances from Bardem (softly softly) and Cruz (all guns blazing), but again, that makes sense: these characters are still young and unformed.
At its best, the movie resembles one of Eric Rohmer’s sensual educations, but with a more Almodóvarian sense of humour. An insistent voiceover narration spells out far too much, but otherwise the story is beautifully judged.
This time when the lights come up, we’re sadder and wiser in the best sense. For what it’s worth, it really is his best in years.