Woody Allen lands a terrific cast with his latest attempt at comedy, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but there is something very off about the way these characters are written. Annoying pretentious dialogue renders a whimsical, fairy-tale-like backdrop ineffectual, causing each moment of silence to come all too slowly.Rebecca Hall is Vicky. Scarlett Johansson is Cristina. They are two differently wired friends enjoying an extended vacation in Barcelona, where they meet up with ruggedly handsome artist Juan Antonio Gonzalo (Javier Bardem), whom both girls can’t seem to resist. Juan Antonio asks both girls to join him in bed the first time he meets them. Vicky is offended, while Cristina finds his approach radically interesting – enough so to decide she’ll take him up on the offer. Unfortunately for Cristina, food poisoning cuts her plans short, and in steps the combative Vicky to fill the empty slot.
And that slot is left empty by Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), a firecracker ex-wife who’s about to re-enter the picture. Complicating matters further, Juan Antonio begins a relationship with Cristina. Maria Elena joins in. And Vicky can’t get him out of her head, possibly because of her upcoming marriage to a materialistic American businessman that she is no longer sure she wants. Sets are gorgeous, performances are strong, but every shot at humor falls tragically short, especially since the mood is right for love and laughs. Perhaps the film is simply a victim of its own marketing, but it’s too lighthearted for drama and too light on laughs for comedy. The fault ultimately lies with the script, which can’t be fixed. It’s just Allen’s way, and if you’ve followed his career eagerly, you may find this the right mix of romance and neuroses.
The 1.85:1 widescreen presentation sparkles under a tint of golden sunlight indicative of the Barcelona setting. For all his weaknesses as a writer, Allen knows how to lens his setting in creating a mood of candlelight romance and chaotic sex-capade. As for the transfer, it’s free of contaminants, clear as spring water, and as sharp as anything currently on the market.
The 2.0 track is light on frills and high on volume. From Christopher Evan Welch’s documentary-styled narration to dialog levels to a frolicking musical score, what each aspect of the track lacks in ambience and detail, it makes up for in strength and consistency.
Many critics are hailing Vicky Cristina Barcelona as a return to form for Allen, but what if you never thought too highly of his form in the first place? It’s been said before how truly relative comedy is, and Allen’s brand of humor has its place among a select group of filmgoers, a fact which makes Allen and his fans neither elite nor superior. In the end, much like this film, they simply are – nothing more, nothing less. A great A/V presentation is hampered only by a complete lack of bonus materials, which is sure to end in disappointment for those looking forward to this release.