As many have pointed out, it’s damning “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” with faint praise to call it Woody Allen’s best film since “Match Point,” a minimal achievement if ever there was one. I liked the film at Cannes, and like it even more in retrospect, where it seems a little crueler, for all that it looks like a soft-focus sex farce. Reviews are, for the most part, quite good.
“[M]aybe it was the Gaudi architecture or the restorative Mediterranean breeze,” muses Michael Koresky at indieWIRE, “but on a very basic level, ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ works, flowing along even and steady, and infectiously fascinated by its principals (and its principles, as any Allen film worth its weight in moral dilemmas must be).” “Given its particulars–Allen’s creepy-old-man gaze, the subtext-free dialogue, the Michelin-guide tour of Catalan art and architecture, the predictable dramatic arc–Vicky Cristina Barcelona ought to have been an eye-roller,” adds David Edelstein at New York. “What a surprise that it’s so seductive. The Woodman lives!”
Scott Foundas at the LA Weekly writes that “I for one found something oddly elating in the movie’s assurance that it is better to have made passionate love and maybe almost died at the hands of a jealous mistress than never to have loved at all.” “[T]hrough it all, Vicky Cristina Barcelona remains unaccountably romantic, a confirmation that love, elusive and painful as it can be, is still worth pursuing,” agrees Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club. David Denby, at the New Yorker, speculates that “One is meant to emerge from ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ believing that happiness may be elusive, even impossible, but that life has a richness greater than one’s personal satisfaction.” For Manohla Dargis at the New York Times, the film “reverberates with implacable melancholy, a sense of loss.”
Roger Ebert sums “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” up as “all fairly harmless, although fraught with dire possibilities,” while Andrew Sarris at the New York Observer goes as far as saying the film is “one of the most felicitously written, edited, acted and directed romantic comedies of his entire career.”
Andrew O’Hehir at Salon is not as enchanted, guessing that Allen “was shooting for a Henry James-style parable about American innocents abroad, but what he wound up with was an intermittently amusing fairy tale with a nasty sting in its tail, one that punishes its American characters for their shallowness and cowardice and rewards its Europeans for their worldly sophistication.” Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly finds the sentiment more ’60s in spirit: “[T]here is no vision — no possibility — of a relationship that is long-term and monogamous yet amorous in spirit…I hope it’s not too bourgeois of me to point out that for a director who is trying to make a worldly romantic comedy, this is quite a shallow and jejune point of view.”
Not feeling it at all: Ed Gonzalez at Slant, who proposes for “what may be described as an Upper East Sider’s version of Hostel” the alternate title of “Pan-Seared Misogyny in Hot-Blooded Balsamic Mediterranean Reduction.” And Armond White at the New York Press, in his contortions to tear at Allen’s film by way of praising Rohmer’s “The Romance of Astrea and Celadon,” comes up with pronouncements like “Fatally, there’s no significant nudity in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which means its sexual frankness is specious,” and “Despite the big budget and name stars, Vicky Cristina Barcelona shows Allen’s 98th film stumbling into mumblecore, fumbling with love and class like a spoiled brat who’s never seen a Rohmer, Malle, Renoir or Ophuls masterpiece.”
[Photo: “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” Weinstein Co, 2008]