VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (***) - Starring Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, Rebecca Hall, Patricia Clarkson, Craig Messina and Kevin Dunn.
Directed by Woody Allen.
Woody Allen is so much easier to take when he's not in the movie. It's probably been a good decade since I liked a movie that he's in, but when he gets out of the way for other actors, like in Match Point or this one, he can still write good stories. And when his neurotic dialogue is spoken in a Spanish accent, it feels new and alive.
Penelope Cruz is getting the hype for Best Supporting Actress for this movie, and she is really good. It helps that a third of her dialogue is in her native tongue, and the soft tones of the cinematography around Barcelona give it the look and feel of a Pedro Almodovar movie.
The movie centers on two friends, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Christina (Scarlett Johnasson). They're Americans vacationing in Spain, and they get propositioned by a Don Juan local (Javier Bardem) to come to his place for the weekend and maybe enjoy a menage a trois. Vicky's appalled, but Christina's intrigued by his frankness. At different point in the movie, both women wonder if they're in love with him, but things get further complicated by the return of his unstable ex-wife (Cruz).
Javier Bardem is a great stand-in for Woody, it turns out. Others have tried to varying success. I liked John Cusack in Bullets Over Broadway, and Kenneth Branagh in Celebrity (which was otherwise a terrible movie). Will Ferrell in Melinda & Melinda, not so much. Bardem has many of the Woody Character flaws, but his natural charisma makes it easier to swallow that women would overlook those and his not-so-classic looks.
As for Cruz, I'd be okay if she won, but I'm still pulling for Taraji P. Henson from Benjamin Button.