Scarlett Johansson and her less flighty best friend Rebecca Hall are Americans on holidays in Barcelona, Spain. Hall (who is also doing her Masters on something called Catalan identity) is about to wed the rather dull Chris Messina, but one night local artist Javier Bardem approaches the girls with a proposition; He will take them away on his own plane for a weekend of fun, and presumably a ménage-a-trois. Sensible Hall is immediately resistant to the idea, but Johannson considerably less so and somehow this charmer manages to whisk them away and although it doesn’t quite go smoothly, both women appear to have feelings for the romantic painter. But then Messina makes a surprise visit to see Hall, and she tries to forget about Bardem. As for Johansson, however, it’s not long before she has moved in with Bardem and they have become a couple. All seems to be going well for the two of them, and that’s when Bardem’s tempestuous, suicidal ex-wife Penelope Cruz shows up, and moves in with Bardem and Johansson. Awkward, no? Apparently there’s still a great love between the Spaniards…they just can’t stay together for long before one tries to kill the other (or themselves). But Bardem tries to impress upon Cruz the fact that he is now with Johansson. Patricia Clarkson and Kevin Dunn turn up as Hall’s relatives, providing an awful lot of Americans in Spain at the one time, I must say.
Another day, another Woody Allen (“Annie Hall”, “Manhattan”, “Scoop”, “Deconstructing Harry”) film, this one from 2008 is pretty much a showcase for Scarlett Johansson and an Academy Award winning Penelope Cruz by design. However, I’m more a fan of Rebecca Hall, who is underused here, and the whole thing is stolen by the charismatic Javier Bardem. Don’t get me wrong, Cruz is spot-on in her performance, but the role of the chaos driving a wedge between Bardem and Johansson is a clichéd one, and good or not I don’t think she’s in the film enough to warrant an Oscar win in my view. Johansson is not among my favourite screen actresses, but she has never been better than here, or more likeable. Her character, however, just isn’t as interesting as the other three main players. That said, the Hall character, interesting or not, ends up not being all that necessary to the story being told. Theoretically, the film could’ve worked with just the trio of Bardem, Johansson, and Cruz, though Hall is immensely appealing and glamorous and necessary or not, I wanted to see much more of her. I certainly didn’t feel like Hall spent enough time with Johansson to really believe they were best friends.
The film certainly has its flaws, and even the Bardem character is a tad clichéd, as is Woody’s overall depiction of Spain. The constant mariachi music got old real fast. One of the biggest irritants is Woody’s inclusion of a narrator. It serves the same lack of purpose as the narrator from “Little Children”, there’s no reason whatsoever for it. Show us, don’t tell us. Let the actors act for fuck’s sake!
But there’s still a fair bit to like here, especially Bardem. He’s so damn charming that he almost doesn’t come across as a total perve. He’s bloody terrific. It’s amusing to note that he ended up marrying co-star Cruz two years after this. Kinda perfect isn’t it? Speaking of perfect, Patricia Clarkson is perfectly cast, which is great if you like her. I kinda liked what the film says about love, relationships and finding ‘the one’. In that regard it’s quite clever. Like “Match Point” and the flop “Cassandra’s Dream”, I’m not sure I saw a whole lot of Woody Allen in this, but it’s certainly better than those two films.
A fairly enjoyable Woody Allen film, but somewhat slight. This one’s more on the “Hollywood Ending” side of 3 stars/B- than say “Manhattan” or “Play it Again, Sam” which are even better, and it’s certainly no “Annie Hall” or “Deconstructing Harry”. It’s more on the travelogue side of things, but is much more enjoyable than “Midnight in Paris” on that front, and a whole lot less pretentious. It’s easy, breezy entertainment, if a bit short and in need of more Rebecca Hall. But then, aren’t we all in need of more Rebecca Hall?