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Barcelona or bust
August 28, 2008 - Rick Chatenever
The irony of it all isn’t lost on Woody Allen. Now that he’s finally beginning to get the drift of what really goes on between men and women, he’s personally too old to do much about it.
Then again, it turns out that matters of the heart are still the mystery they were all along. There’s not much any of us can do to change that.
“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is his latest look at the subject and his most enjoyable movie in years.
A poignant comedy — which is another way of saying it’s as sad as it is funny — it accompanies the two young women of the title for one of those post-graduate summers of discovery in Barcelona. Vicky is played by Rebecca Hall and Cristina is portrayed by Woody’s latest Lolita, Scarlett Johansson. Sensual, colorful Barcelona plays itself.
Their discoveries include a charismatic Spanish painter (Javier Bardem) and his even more fascinating ex-wife (Penelope Cruz). Talk about love-hate. The tempestuous pair are soul mates — but also liable to murder each other in the next moment. Seriously. They’re so … Spanish, the total opposite of safer, if duller, American notions of romantic bliss.
That’s what Vicky’s got waiting back home, with a rich fiance (Chris Messina) and posh home in the suburbs. The girls get another preview of rich-but-dull love from their American hosts in Barcelona (Patricia Clarkson and Kevin Dunn).
Having finally shed his phobias about venturing far from his beloved New York, Woody Allen has in his recent films, headed for the Continent. It’s like he’s making up for lost time, turning out Rick Steves-style travel guides: Europe for Neurotic Romantics.
While he displays fondness for the sights, sounds and smoldering sensuality of Spain, his mission abroad is the same as it has always been: to understand the meaning of love.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any such thing. Poor Woody. Poor us.
The Oscar-winning writer-director wisely stays behind the camera, but his distinctive presence is felt in the lines coming out of his characters’ mouths.
His cleverness sounds better, less whiny at least, when spoken by his fine cast, especially leading lady Hall. Clarkson is her usual wonderful self and Johansson provides eye candy. The two American guys are the only really happy souls in sight, if only because they’re so oblivious.
But it’s Bardem and Cruz who deliver the goods. The Spanish actor erases the iconic evil of his Oscar-winning tour de force in “No Country for Old Men” to play a role as lovable and ultimately goofy, as it first seemed suave and seductive.
Cruz is even more magnetic as his volatile soul mate, as lovely as she is nuts. She’s one of the few actresses who can make crazy dangerous feel like fun. You can’t take your eyes off her whenever she’s on screen.
There’s no happy ending to Woody Allen’s idea of romance. Never has been, and going to Spain doesn’t help. For him, romantic love is one of those games nobody really wins — but this sad, sweet knowledge isn’t enough to make anyone want to stop playing.
If Woody Allen has spent his career pondering men, women, love and sex, he’s still a rank newcomer compared to Hugh Hefner.
The Playboy creator — looking his age despite the three granddaughter-age Bunnies always by his side — plays himself in “The House Bunny,” a dumb-as-you-expect-it-to-be comedy that came out No. 2 at the box office this week, behind “Tropic Thunder.”
Sharing a producer credit with Adam Sandler, star Anna Faris plays a Bunny at Hef’s mansion, who winds up the house mother for a sorry sorority for the charm-impaired at a nearby college.
Mixing and matching cliches from “Legally Blonde” “Revenge of the Nerds” and all their even sillier spawn, there’s no question where the story’s going. It’s only a matter of time for the sisters of Eek Greek Geek to shed their annoying mannerisms, goth outlooks and back braces to reveal the babe within.
Luckily, the script gives them some good lines along the way. And Faris goes a long way toward making it all OK. Great comedic talents (you’ve gotta be smart to act that dumb), sexy ditziness and cheery oblivion guide her steps. She makes you laugh and love her, no matter how hard you try to resist.
The smart women of “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and the dumb ones of “The House Bunny” share similar insecurities, doubts and cluelessness about who they really are. Woody Allen and Hugh Hefner can’t shed much light on the subject.
Women may have a really hard time understanding themselves, but guys — even champs like Woody and Hef who have devoted their lives to trying to understand women — don’t even know where to begin.
n Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com,
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