A long time ago, in a galaxy, far, far away, nerds got all pissy because a popular film called Star Wars lost out on best picture Oscar to one called Annie Hall.
Know what? Annie Hall totally deserved to win. Because back then, in a galaxy far, far away, Woody Allen made awesome pictures. He turned out stuff like Stardust Memories and The Purple Rose of Cairo and Manhattan. He was funny, touching, experimental, and in real life, dated and married some pretty cool Hollywood stars like Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow.
But that long ago and far away and might as well be an alternate history. Now, Woody Allen is fucking his stepdaughter and making films like Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Okay, VCB features some okay performances. Actually, Penélope Cruz pretty much kicks ass, and even won an Oscar for it, Best Ass-kicking Performance by a Female in a Bad Movie, or something like that. Scarlett Johansson, clearly the latest young performer Allen would like to fuck, also does a fair job. The film features some nice travelogue shots of Spain, and some interesting works of art, and lots of shots where people get all emotional while drinking red wine and it raises questions about the nature of relationships. It was a lot easier to take Allen seriously on the subject of relationships when he wasn't fucking his stepdaughter.
But the film is awful. Really, really awful. Its appearance on so many critic's lists for 2008 also raises a few questions.
Because, seriously, this film plays like a cross between Allen's director’s notes and his masturbation fantasies. It follows two young women, wild and clueless grad student Cristina and sensible and boring future yuppie Vicky who are hanging in Spain for a summer with Vicky's privileged relatives. They meet a hip artist named Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) who immediately propositions both of them. They end up travelling with him and there's confusion because, like, Cristina gets sick and Vicky's not sure about her safe but unappealing fiance and her busybody aunt and then Cristina starts taking photographs....
Look, what you really need to know are the following things:
-there are complications, art, and many glasses of red wine
-there's awful, godawful, what-the-hell-was-Woody-thinking? dialogue The people in this film frequently sound less like real people than Anakin Skywalker and Queen Amidala.
-there's a neurotic interfering busybody who looks suspiciously like Mia Farrow, Woody's ex and an outspoken critic of his relationship with their adopted stepdaughter.
-there's sex involving various characters.
-there's a lesbian sex scene between Scarlett Johansson and Penélope Cruz, which is the main reason most straight guys see this film. The scene's not very explicit and anyway you can probably catch it on Youtube
-Oh, and there's a narrator.
Most directors avoid narrators. Film is a visual medium. However, a good director can make them work, as Woody Allen has, many times. Think of the nostalgic voiceover in Radio Days, or the neurotic appeals to the camera in Annie Hall. The narrator in this film isn't like those ones. No, this film gets an annoying, grating narrator whose pretentiousness I can only hope Allen intended as parody. The narrator intrudes regularly, saying things that he either doesn't need to say or things he shouldn't need to say, but Allen couldn’t be bothered to finish his script, because he was too busy building up to the lesbian scene, which he totally throws away anyhow. Seriously, the film begins with a voiceover telling us exactly what the two main characters are like, and then we see them act that way. It's like one of the foremost directors of our time decided to see what one of his movies would be like if he had failed Film 101. I don't know, maybe he's making films for his stepdaughter wife. I've heard she's not really that bright.
Seriously, the film has a few okay moments, one kickass performance, and some lesbian sex, but, just as George Lucas has come a long way since 1977 and not a good way, so has Woody Allen, and maybe he should think about retiring to a villa some place.
I understand Spain has some pretty good red wine.