And it's not the kind of lesson you're probably expecting. It was a lesson in what not to do.
I used to be a big fan of Woody Allen, and Crimes and Misdemeanors is still one of my favourite films (note to self, must watch it again to see if it still holds up), but lately none of this films have really worked for me. I think I liked Match Point more than most people did, and I found last year's Cassandra's Dream kind of interesting, if only for him casting Colin Farrell against type, but based on the reviews I checked out on rotten tomatoes, I certainly liked Vicky Cristina Barcelona less than most critics. Why did so many people think this film was so great?
To me, this film was a lesson in why as writers we should show and not tell. It was supposed to be a film about love, exploring many kinds of love and questioning conventional ideas about love, but it seemed intent on pulling the audience as far away from the characters and possibly getting emotionally involved as possible. While the story was interesting and some of the performances were excellent, overall, the storytelling didn't work for me.
I think the biggest problem was the decision to use a voice over narration. Always a risky idea. But I've seen a few films in the past few years with narrations that I think really worked. Little Children, The Assassination of Jesse James... and Into the Wild are three recent ones that come to mind. In all of those, the narration added to the films and made the story telling more interesting. (While I didn't love Jesse James -- too long, too unfocussed -- it wasn't the narration that was the problem.)
But in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the narrator tells us things we can clearly see. It's like Woody didn't trust his actors, or his own choices in staging the scenes, to convey what we needed to know. For example... picture a scene with Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz sitting on a blanket in a pastoral setting eating and drinking and laughing with each other. Do we really need a voice over telling us they went on a picnic and that the initial tension felt between the three had ended??? There were constant examples of this. Even much of the dialogue was the characters expressing emotions that were already clear to us from their performances.
I'm not sure if I missed some great symbolism in this use of narration, or what... but while I was entertained by the film it mostly disappointed me. On the positive side, Penelope Cruz was amazing and Javier Bardem was astoundingly sexy. I also loved the idea of a couple who love each other but need the ingredient of a third person to smooth out the edges so that they can actually be around each other... And Rebecca Hall (who played Vicky) was great. Scarlett Johanssen felt a little flat.. but then her character was supposed to be a little lost and scattered and unsure of what she wanted, so perhaps that was acting???
Anyone else see it?