The lesbian rumors are exaggerated. But Allen and Cruz are outstanding
When Woody Allen’s at the top of his game, no one is better. His batting average isn’t what it was in the ’70s and ’80s but at 72, he keeps turning out a film a year, and hitting an occasional home run like "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," (Weinstein, $28.95)
What’s most remarkable is the way Allen keeps growing and adapting. He’s only recently left his comfort zone of New York Jewry to study European cultures. And he’s continually refining and updating his technique while retaining the economic storytelling style epitomized by the new film’s title. It’s not one woman’s name but a shorthand version of "Vicky and Cristina Spend a Summer in Barcelona," which sounds too much like the third Harold & Kumar film.
Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are best friends with personalities as opposite as their hair color. Blonde Cristina is a free spirit with no idea what she wants to do with her life. Brunette Vicky opts for security. She’s engaged to Doug (Chris Messina), who is steady, upwardly mobile — in a word, boring.
A relative of Vicky’s, Judy (Patricia Clarkson) offers to put the two up for the summer in the Barcelona house she shares with her husband Mark (Kevin Dunn).
They soon meet an artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who invites the young women to fly with him to Oviedo for the weekend, being honest about wanting to have sex with both of them.
Vicky says no. Cristina says yes, and the ayes have it. The weekend doesn’t turn out the way anyone expects but back in Barcelona, the natural order is restored.
Soon Cristina moves in with Juan Antonio, who is obviously still hung up on the ex-wife who stabbed him on the way out of his life.
The movie appears to be moving along at a pretty good clip but right at the midpoint it goes into hyper-drive with the arrival of Maria Elena (PenÃ©lope Cruz), Juan Antonio’s ex. She drives everyone crazy before the household settles into a mÃ©nage Ã trois of sorts.
"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" would have worked as a drama or as the kind of laugh-a-minute yukfest Allen used to make. Instead, it’s somewhere between, with enough humor that you can relax and enjoy it without feeling challenged.
Cruz is the standout in an outstanding cast, deserving of her supporting actress nom for taking a clichÃ©d spitfire role and boldly going where no woman has gone before. Bardem is sexier than he’s been in a decade, while Johansson and Hall couldn’t be better matched as the mismatched friends.
You may have heard rumors of lesbian action but they’re greatly exaggerated. There’s one hot but brief kiss between Cruz and Johansson, which Woody may have included for his own amusement but it works. And when Bardem inevitably joins the ladies, their little dance recalls the one in "Cabaret" and fades out just as fast.
There’s time for enough sightseeing that if you don’t know who Antonio Gaudi was, you’ll be familiar with his style by the end of the movie. You’re probably already familiar with Woody Allen’s style but this is a chance to see it at its best.
Two videos just came out that touch on matters of faith. Irish-Catholic Julia Sweeney’s "Letting Go of God" ($19.99, Indefatigable) is about breaking up with the Lord Almighty. "It’s Pat" from "Saturday Night Live" examines the belief in a higher power. From there, Sweeney creates hilariously sweet monologues about Jesus’ bipolar behavior, the Bible’s arcane passages and why atheism is a morally sound ideology.
"We’re All Angels" ($16.98, Centaur) is a documentary about "Jason & deMarco," a gay Christian duo who try to balance pop stardom while performing on the Christian church circuit. Produced by Michael Huffington (Arianna’s gay ex), "We’re All Angels" is like a squeaky clean version of "Truth or Dare." If anything, the footage shows that Jason and deMarco are a normal couple who mostly get along, but sometimes bicker and disagree. Their make-up sex must be hawt!