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Cannes 08: “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”

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05172008_vickycristinabarcelona.jpgHere’s a sentence I wasn’t expecting to write: Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is… fun. It’s not sexy, despite all the buzz about the Scarlett Johansson/Javier Bardem/Penélope Cruz menage and sapphic snuggling between Johansson and Cruz, which, sorry to disappoint, consists only of an ungainly kiss. But it is an enjoyable fling of a film, and enjoyment is something that seemed to have dropped off Allen’s list of interests entirely. His European excursions post-“Match Point” haven’t lived up to that film’s promise of auteurist rejuvenation, but rather than try out more cultural ventriloquism this time around on the guitar, Allen approaches Barcelona in the same way as his lead characters — as a place to visit, to enjoy, to take in as a tourist, always expecting to leave at the end.

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is something of a play date between typical Allen characters and ones from an Almodóvar film. The Americans are Vicky (Rebecca Hall, wiping the floor with her more famous co-star), the sensible, responsible, engaged one, and her best friend Cristina (Johansson), the artistic dabbler in search of herself and doomed, wild romance. They occupy an income bracket in which it’s possible to spend the summer in Spain taking in Gaudí, to effortlessly flee to Antibes for a few weeks to clear one’s head, and to grow weary of discussions of home purchases in Westchester. At an art opening, they run into an extremely Spanish painter, Juan Antonio, played by Javier Bardem on giggle-inducing perma-smolder. Juan Antonio dallies with Vicky (who makes him work for it) and then with Cristina (who doesn’t), seducing them with melancholy music, soulful talk of art and emotions and tales of his tempestuous relationship with his ex-wife Maria Elena (Cruz), who he still loves but can’t bear to be with. Well, until he is — she storms back into his life, gloriously insane, and soon she’s moved in with him and an uneasy Cristina, for whose benefit Juan Antonio keeps barking “We speak English here!”

The film’s main pleasure, Bardem and Cruz are combustibly funny together, able to escalate from normal conversation into a red-faced shouting match in seconds. Cruz’s Maria Elena, in runny eyeliner and skimpy outfits, is wildly beautiful, wildly brilliant, wildly moody and wildly wild — she, like Juan Antonio, is a cartoon, but one that jabs at all of the unspoken insecurities of the American girls, who worry that they lack substance and passion compared to these fiery European souls. “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”‘s bohemian Spaniards have gorgeous houses, no noticeable sources of income and spend their days painting, writing poetry and arguing in cafes. It’s fantasy Europe, but Allen long ago staked his place in fantasy New York, and Vicky and Cristina, with all their self-conscious leisure to self-examine, are equally creatures of the latter. Narrated, via cheerily omniscient voiceover, like one long anecdote (or an episode of “Arrested Development”), the film doesn’t come to any particular point at all, other than that both girls have a good sense of when its the right time to go. New York’s there waiting, and, scary photos and all, I’m halfway looking forward to it.

[Photo: “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” Weinstein Co, 2008]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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