Making the Grades
Ever get a beautifully wrapped present only to discover a mundane gift inside, or worse yet something dangerous or disgusting? Woody Allen's film Vicky Cristina Barcelona feels a lot like that kind of let down. Staged in beautiful Spanish locations, the movie is flooded with lush backdrops, gorgeous villas and quaint streets. But once the script unfolds, it plays out like a cheeky adaptation of a cheap romance novel, complete with the ever-present narrator (Christopher Evan Welch).
Vicky (Rebecca Hall) has been invited by her distant relatives (Patricia Clarkson, Kevin Dunn) to spend the summer with them in Spain where she can do research work for her master's thesis. At the last minute, her pal Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) decides to tag along. Despite their friendship, the girls are about as opposite as possible when it comes to love. Steady and clear thinking, Vicky is engaged to be married at the end of the summer. Cristina, on the other hand, has just left another unsuccessful relationship and is on the prowl for a man.
Sitting in a restaurant, the two American tourists are approached by a local artist who has just experienced a violent break-up with his wife (Penelope Cruz). Exuding a kind of smarmy charm, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) invites the two girls to spend the weekend (and his bed) with him in the country's northern city of Oviedo. While Cristina swoons at the idea of being swept away for a lusty interlude, Vicky agrees to go along only to keep her friend out of trouble. Yet, before the weekend is over, it is Vicky who has been seduced instead of Cristina.
After a torrid coupling in a city park, however, Juan immediately ignores the bride-to-be and turns his attentions to Cristina who moves into his villa for easier accessibility to the bedroom. Before long though, his suicidal ex-wife arrives in town. Worried about her mental state (and likely still in love with her), Juan allows Maria Elena (Penlope Cruz) to move back in regardless of Cristina's feelings. Before long, the cozy twosome becomes a threesome with the two women exchanging kisses with one another as well as Juan.
Unfortunately, the characters' behaviors, including Juan's openly unfaithful activities, are deemed to be normal. Even more so, Juan's womanizing appears not only natural but also needful for a man who expects his partners to accept his ways. Despite this, consequences such as pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and any guilt associated with lying and cheating are conveniently avoided. Continual scenes of drinking and alluring shots of a smoking are paired with carefully contrived sexual liaisons and passionate kissing. Sexual discussions, profanities and vulgarities also permeate the script, along with a gun-wielding, emotionally troubled woman. Meanwhile, traits like stability, commitment and hard work become negative attributes to be shunned.
The film's most revealing line may be when Cristina questions her own level of open-mindedness about Juan's extracurricular dalliances. Even her free-spirited personality seems to know there's a line that begs not to be crossed. While the movie may be promoted as a romantic comedy, this steamy European summer love affair is really nothing more than two ridiculously foolish females feeding into the embrace of a slick and sleazy Don Juan of Barcelona.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
This production seems to promote the idea than an outside affair will improve sex in a committed relationship. What implications of unfaithfulness does the film fail to address? What impact might breached trust have on the emotional well being of a couple?
How do these characters define romantic love? Why are recreational encounters seen as being more appealing than long-term relationships? What positive aspects of marriage (or committed pairs) are overlooked in this script?
Can knowing what you don’t want in life help a person find what they do want?
One character in this film refers to multiple partners as a Mormon practice. Polygamy, known as the marriage of more than one woman to the same man, was practiced in the early history of the Mormon faith (officially known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) but was banned nearly 120 years ago.