Vicky Cristina Barcelona fails to grasp the concept of “show, don’t tell.” It has a narrator which explains things that characters or their actions should be telling us. The first lines of dialogue come from the narrator, explaining why Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) have decided to come to Barcelona, and also their views on life and love in general. But only the latter part of that matters; their reasons for taking a two-month-long vacation isn’t information we need or even really want. Their views, on the other hand, are intriguing.
Vicky is one of those people who tend to over-analyze everything in life, as well as come across as a tad too smart. You know, the people who want to sound smarter than they are, just so that everyone assumes they’re so sure of themselves. She’s got a plan for everything, and is going to be married in a few weeks. Cristina, on the other hand, is her polar opposite. She’s spontaneous, lustful, and, as one character points out, pretentious. But the two are best friends despite their many differences, and seem to get along really well.
They do go to Barcelona though, because the language, culture and scenery is so beautiful. They dine in fancy restaurants, sightsee, visit art museums, take Spanish classes, and on the whole have a pretty good time. One night, a painter named Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) comes to their dinner table, and offers to fly them out to a small town and make a weekend of it. Cristina is into the idea, Vicky is not, but since you’re not going to let a talent like Bardem go to waste, Vicky wins out.
They go, have a nice time, and then something happens. It seems that both women become enamored with Juan. Cristina, being unattached, goes after him, while Vicky decides that it is not to be, considering her engagement. Cristina and Juan seem destined to be together though: Their personalities match well, and they’re both attractive movie stars. What’s not to like there?
Things don’t go perfectly for anyone in this movie, as wrenches and other tools are thrown into the mix. Juan Antonio has an ex-wife who he constantly talks about, and who appears about 50 minutes into the film. She’s played by Penelope Cruz, and once she shows up, things get more interesting. That’s not to say things weren’t interesting before, but Cruz’s character is crazy, meaning you’ll never know what to expect from her. And then there’s one alternative lifestyle choices that come through in a few characters, all while Vicky is feeling left out from the man she loves despite only spending two days with.
For most of the movie, I was engaged. I liked these people, I liked they way they talked and what they talked about, and I was having a pretty good time. And then the narrator spoke again, and I was completely taken out of the experience. The inclusion of this person, who has a voice unfitting for this type of role, left me with displeasure. I was absorbed in the Barcelona scenery, and I was actually enjoying watching these people do nothing much of consequence. But every now and then, the narrator would speak up, and I’d wish him silenced. Show me, don’t just blatantly tell me what’s happening, and I will remain engaged.
However, I was entertained for most of the film’s runtime, despite being taken away from my immersion every so often. I enjoyed it because it felt real, and because there didn’t seem to be a need to over dramatize everything. It’s one of those life movies, where not all that much happens, but it all feels real and you can see situations like this taking place in day-to-day life. Potentially, at least. And if characters learn something by the end of the trip, good for them, and good for the audience. Everybody wins.
I think you could set a movie in Barcelona, have no actors, no dialogue, and just have it go on a sight-seeing tour. It would probably be worth watching, and with how many sights we do get to see, Vicky Cristina Barcelona fulfills that wish as well. If you simply want to see attractive people set against an impressive backdrop, you get that here, and when you have a story to go with it, you have the means to make a good film. That’s what we get: A good film. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s simply good.
The writing is what I most appreciated about this film, because it’s a film where you’ll occasionally here words that you rarely come across. And since using these rare words fit the characters, it doesn’t come across as unrealistic or like director/writer Woody Allen was trying to sound like a pseudo-intellectual. The dialogue is engaging while getting a point across, which is always a good thing, and since it’s coming from good actors, it feels real.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a good movie, but fails to be a great one because of a single element that took me out of the experience far more than it needed to. Remove the narrator, and add about 15 minutes of footage that has the characters either acting or talking about what the narrator explains to us, and you do have a great movie. It’s well acted, has great writing and the cinematography is, at times, breathtaking. I wish it had been even better, but as it is, it’s an enjoyable watch.