It's hard to say whether Woody Allen's filmmaking mojo was reenergized by his shift to novel European settings or his insatiable desire to fuck Scarlett Johansson retarded, but one way or another 2005's Match Point was posh, nasty, cynical entertainment with great dialogue and one of his best movies in years after a string of so-so, forgettable flicks.
Part of what made it work was the thriller vibe far removed from Woody's usual comedic style, and although it's about as far from a thriller as can be Vicky Cristina Barcelona again finds Woody in good form and again working in a genre that feels nothing like his neurotic Manhattanite tales, specifically Spanish melodrama / romance. I won't claim any expertise on the subject - never seen a Pedro Almodóvar film in my life - but it seems like an interesting genre for Allen to work in. It provides plenty of opportunity for him to weave in his gently cynical ruminations on the nature of love and relationships and the fact that the dialogue isn't trying super-hard to be funny actually allows a lot more laughs to flow organically from the characters than Woody's recent attempts at full-fledged comedy.
Scarlett Johansson has never really impressed me (in acting, anyway; her tits are spectacular) - she's fine but unremarkable here - but Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz are very entertaining despite the fact that they are playing to harmless-but-hilarious stereotypes of Spanish people all being tortured artists / sex gods. I was worried I wouldn't be able to see Bardem as anything other than Anton Chigurh but I forgot all about Chigurh by the end of Bardem's first scene, which speaks to his caliber as an actor. The best performance however is the less-famous Rebecca Hall as the titular Vicky. She gives the most naturalistic performance I've seen on film lately and spins Woody Allen's signature dialogue like a pro (all while masking her British accent, goddamn!). I missed her character pretty much every time she wasn't onscreen. The Prestige is the only other thing I've seen her in and I hope she gets more leading work.
There's very, very little conflict, basically just Vicky debating herself on whether or not she's getting married too young and too hastily, and the narrative is pretty much just all the main characters fucking each other in various combinations in photogenic settings accompanied by a lot of Woody Allen-style dialogue about art, culture, love, and general life philosophy, but the good writing and good performances keep it engaging and funny. I have no problem recommending it to anyone who has previously enjoyed Woody Allen films or work from any of the major cast. It's light, entertaining, mildly intellectual early autumn fare done well.
4 Stars out of 5