Vicky Cristina Barcelona

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VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, Woody Allen’s contribution to 2008, picked up an Oscar in the Supporting Actress category for the fire-eating performance by Penélope Cruz, stealing the film away from attractive co-stars and pleasing Spanish scenery. Allen wrote & directed intertwined relationship frets for Cruz to share with Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson (back again after Match Point and Scoop) and Rebecca Hall.

Best friends ‘Cristina’ (Johansson) and ‘Vicky’ (Hall) spend a summer in Barcelona with a relative of Vicky’s. During their vacation they’re courted by sensual artist ‘Juan Antonio’ (Bardem), who calmly and confidently pursues them both, individually and as a pair. Experience-hungry Cristina is game, skeptical Vicky a hard-sell, not least because she’s engaged. Enter Juan Antonio’s high-strung, passionate ex-wife ‘Maria Elena’ (Cruz). Since this is a Woody Allen movie, will insecurity be a factor?

Let’s not get into one of those turgid, categorical, imperative arguments.

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Other than the scenic locales, there’s nothing new under the anxiety-shrouded Woody sun, and too much of the back & forth rings too familiar: Hall is basically stuck covering Mia Farrow territory, everyone is upper-middle class and bounced between the stresses of art gallery chic and which tony neighborhood to commute from. Been there with you, Woody—since the 70s. A decided negative is inclusion of a needless narration.

So, it’s left to the cast (and Spanish ambience) to rescue Allen from himself (and us from him). This they do, since Johansson is disarming, Bardem persuasive and Cruz a self-hurled Molotov cocktail. Hands down the best scenes are the furious arguments (in Spanish) between Bardem and Cruz. *

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Made for $15,000,000, it’s box-office success came mostly thanks to international revenue, which was 76% of a total $96,409,000, just $23,217,000 of that was in the States.

If you don’t start undressing me soon this is going to turn into a panel discussion.”

In support: Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina and Kevin Dunn. Christopher Evan Welch handled the irksome narration. Warm-glow cinematography from Javier Aguirresarobe. 97 minutes.

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* Cruz won over some seriously strong competition that year: Amy Adams and Viola Davis for Doubt, Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler and Taraji P. Henson for The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.

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