VCB is a story about two female American tourists in Barcelona
who both fall for the same Spanish painter. The interactions among them are
further complicated by the reappearance of his crazy ex-wife, who is his
soul-mate. The story was written and directed by Woody Allen, who has turned
out a picture every year for enough consecutive years to make Lou Gehrig
Speaking of Gehrig ... I remember reading that Lou knew it was time to give up the
consecutive games streak when one of his teammates congratulated him on making
a routine play. If only Woody Allen was capable of that same kind of realistic
Woody is an accomplished filmmaker, so you can expect that he made the
routine plays correctly: the music is beautiful; the city of Barcelona and its
environs are photographed with love; the editing is so smooth that the
narrative flows effortlessly. Woody also made one good stop of a hard shot
down the line: the crazy ex-wife character, as played by Penelope Cruz, is one
of the most interesting people the author has ever created, and is perfectly
suited to showcase the talents of the actress. (Did Woody write this role with
Penelope in mind?) Critics praised those achievements.
Having noted all of that, let me be one of the rare voices to say this is
not a good movie in spite of those positives. The screenplay is just downright awful.
Never mind that it's tedious. Ignore the fact that the characters and
situations are all movie clichés. Those things are almost tolerable in light
of the film's strengths, and they can be characterized as elements of
mediocrity rather than incompetence.
So let me get to the actual incompetence.
Let's start with the voice-over narration. There are plenty of situations
where I love narration. In film noir detective stories, I love it because I
want to hear the character's assessment of the situation expressed in his own
colorful patois, and because when the narration is done right it adds mood and
flavor and even a touch of poetry to the film. An example would be The Big
Sleep. Narration can also be fun in comedies when it is done by a main
character, functions as part of his character development, and adds the humor
of his POV. An example would be Lord of War. Those are rare exceptions,
however. Narration is normally an irritant in the best of circumstances. In
the worst, it destroys a film. That's what happens here.
Woody makes every possible mistake with this narration:
First, it adds nothing to character development. The narrator is not a
character in the film, but an impersonal, omniscient voice reciting facts.
Second, the narration simply repeats things we have already been shown or,
even worse, tells us things we should have been shown.
Third, it doesn't even sound like it is being delivered by an actor. What's
worse, the narrator is not only a poor actor, but a poor narrator as well.
This is not your James Earl Jones type of narration. The voice of God is thin,
flat, and juvenile. It sounds like a high school freeshman who is forced to read a
dramatic interp passage in front of other boys, and is thus afraid to breathe
any life or passion into it because it will make him sound less masculine and
earn him a playground beating.
There are plenty of other problems.
- The humor is almost non-existent, and when the script reaches for
laughs it does so clumsily.
- There is a superfluous character (a fellow student in Vicky's Spanish
class) introduced and dropped for no apparent reason.
- There are some weak line deliveries by the two title characters.
Woody just plain dropped the ball on some of those routine grounders.
Overall Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a mediocre movie rather than an bad one
because Woody Allen knows too much about filmmaking to turn out anything which
is an utter waste of time. But it is really time for the old fella to stop
churning out so many movies. Instead of creating one forgettable film every
year to keep the consecutive streak going, maybe he could do one every three years, but make it a
good one. Woody will have to figure this out on his own, because his
metaphorical Yankee teammates, i.e. his fans and admiring critics, are going
to continue to slap his back when he makes the routine plays. Something
happens to filmmakers once they reach the level of "acclaimed genius." Nobody
in their entourage is ever willing to tell these emperors that they are naked
because the entourage consists either of sycophants or awe-struck fans who are
intimidated by the genius. Admiring critics, in the manner of Gehrig's
admiring teammates, praise the geniuses for the smallest achievements while
overlooking colossal misfires.
I could do the same. I love the scene where Penelope is painting in a smock
with no bra and Woody photographs her from above. It demonstrates how Woody's
outstanding craftsmanship blinds critics to his other failures. Beautiful
photographic composition. Beautiful, sensuous actress. Meticulously created
set. Gorgeous and appropriate music. Perfect choice of camera angles, which
not only frames the scene nicely, reflects another character's POV, and makes
the action as sexy as possible, but also
allows the cinematographer to move to action on a higher elevation in the same
(And then the Woodman spoils everything with some flat, intrusive and
utterly unnecessary narration!)
OK, Woody, there's your praise. Way to handle that routine grounder. Now do
what Gehrig did and recognize that praise as the sign that it's time to end
the consecutive streak.
There is no nudity, but two of the world's sexiest women are in the film,
so let's take a look at their sexiest moments.
Penelope Cruz. (Includes the scene I described above, so you can see its
merits and flaws for yourself.)