Woody Allen's European films constitute rank dilettantism. His obvious affection for the continent clouds his artistic judgment. Instead of writing insightful, creative scripts like he used to, he is now lazily content to drop the names of artists and things particular to his European settings, and assume the audience will intuit the milieu he is trying to convey. "Gaudi and Miró." Shut the fuck up, Art History 1 at NYU. This movie appeals to the middling intellect of the liberal arts undergrad who romanticizes European backpacking tours after graduation for “discovering themselves,” dabbles in weak psychotropic usage like marijuana, hangs fake vintage posters of wine in their Ikea- and Pier One-appointed kitchens, went to one or two Amnesty International meetings on campus, and so on, and so forth… In “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” we have unexceptional romantic comedy marketed as cosmopolitan art film. No thank you.
The difference now, of course, is that Woody Allen movies used to be about his greatest subject: Woody Allen. When he turns his gaze outward, his stilted, amateurish characterizations and plotting show forth in all of their pathetic, ignominious glory. The voiceover narration, for one, is just cheap and utterly insufferable. Really, just atrocious. It’s cloying and cliché, and just a complete miscalculation.
The story is also far too predictable. The characters are cardboard cutouts that belong in a daytime soap opera, not an intelligent feature-length film. I guarantee not one person who ever saw this movie ever thought, even for one moment, that the supposedly obstinate Vicky was not going to fall madly in love with Bardem, and start questioning the safe decisions from her life in the States. There are no characters in this movie, only caricatures: Vicky has a materialistic but stable, practical fiancé back home in New York, and a passionate, artistic fling in Spain. Torn between the two. You have got to be kidding me. OK, we get it, golf and upstate New York are lame, poetry and carpe diem are cool. The problem is, though, that if you’ve ever met an artist of the middle-caliber type Bardem’s character is supposed to be, you know how stuffed to the absolute brim they are with horseshit. True artists are too fucked up and mentally insane to indulge in the bourgeoisie fantasies depicted in this movie. Do you think that when Nietzsche’s life was winding down as syphilis ravaged his brain stem, he would’ve taken a break from his life's work to “visit a delectable little vineyard I know about in the south of this country, you simply must come visit!” Fuck no! And therein lies the root of the problem. “Artists” like Bardem’s character “rebel” from normal society in the most socially acceptable, least radical way possible. They couch their conservatism in a revolutionary’s clothing, and in doing so, delude themselves more than even the supposedly sheltered normal society they are rebelling against in the first place.
Besides these ideological problems, Woody has also seriously lost his edge on storytelling mechanics and basic filmic technique. A more daring director, for example, would have indulged in a longer Spanish guitar scene to let the viewer better relate to Vicky, who’s hypnotized by Spanish culture, and secretly slowly warming to Bardem. But no, just as I started to feel some fragment of the rapture that Vicky is feeling as she watches that man play, Woody cut away, bowing to the time constraints of traditional narrative filmmaking. After all, we’d never want to bore all the moms watching the movie at Plaza Frontenac! And if he had even a shred of courage anymore, Maria Elena would have blown her gorgeous pink brains out all over those canvases in the studio during the confrontation scene. The camera would cut to a silently screaming Vicky with blood and flecks of viscera splattered over her upper chest and face, and we in the audience would be sitting with mouths totally agape in the theatre. Credits roll.
But I guess who needs to feel anything when you're on vacation in Barcelona?