February 11, 2009 -- The Latest Woody Allen movie continues the famed writer-director's recent trend of shooting movies abroad instead of in his beloved New York City. This one, of course, is filmed in and around Barcelona, Spain. A significant amount of dialog is in Spanish, with English subtitles, despite the fact that the lead actors are all capable English speakers. This is a rollicking romantic comedy with a tangle of competing lovers and a gun-toting ex-wife who collide in memorable fashion.
In most previous Woody Allen movies, dysfunctional neurotics sit around tables in New York restaurants and discuss their failed marriages and romances. In this movie, dysfunctional neurotics sit around tables in Barcelona restaurants and have the same kinds of discussions. Carrying on another Woody Allen tradition, even the brightest, most controlled, logical characters cannot control the deepest desires of their own hearts. Vicky (Rebecca Hall of “The Prestige”) and Christina (Scarlett Johansson of “The Other Boleyn Girl”), on a summer's visit to Barcelona, fall in love with the same man, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem of “No Country for Old Men”). Later, Juan's emotionally unstable, gun-toting, knife-wielding ex-wife Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz of “Volver”) crashes back into his life and wrecks havoc.
Cruz has gotten well-deserved awards from various film-related organizations for her energetic portrayal of the crazed Maria Elena in this film. The entire cast give good performances, including Javier Bardem, who shows he can do comedy as well as drama. After two award-winning performances in The Sea Inside and No Country for Old Men, where he played solemn, one-note characters who barely changed facial expression, he has a much more challenging role here and pulls it off beautifully. It is a good romantic comic performance in which he has to give a very careful portrayal which balances comic and romantic traits in such a way that he comes off as neither a villain nor a buffoon. He is believable as a romantic who just can't be sensible about love. It is a much better performance than his previous two celebrated performances, but he won't win any awards here because this is not a dramatic film. This is the most overlooked and underappreciated kind of film there is, a romantic comedy.
Various twists and turns ensue in this tangle of relationships. Even after the gun-toting ex-wife enters the scene there are more plot convolutions. The relationships evolve in new and unexpected directions. Interesting characters continue to interact in a complex tangle of interesting situations. This film rates a B.
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