It says much about the slim pickings of 2008's late summer movie season that this slight, though not insulting, comedy-drama would become one of Woody Allen's biggest hits.
Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are two American tourists who decide to spend a few weeks hanging out in sunny Barcelona before Vicky's impending marriage to a rich, dull New York yuppie. Soon they meet local painter Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who comes on strong and attempts to seduce the both of them. After a couple of mild surprises, Juan Antonio's insane ex-wife Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz, who steals the show) enters the story, complicating relationships even further.
Though not as funny as one might expect from Allen and his attractive cast and setting, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is still rather light, and its meditations on love and desire are nothing groundbreaking or particularly deep.
There were two things that really bothered me about the movie. The first is the clunky third-person narration (by a little-known actor named Christopher Evan Welch). I found it mostly unnecessary and wonder if the film could have been stronger without the narration explaining all the characters' motivations and inner feelings. The second is that the movie takes place in the Catalan region of Spain, which has its own distinct language and culture that are definitely not Spanish. Vicky is even writing her dissertation on Catalan culture. And yet all the "Catalan" characters speak only Spanish to each other and exhibit stereotypical Spanish passion (as opposed to Catalan reserve), and this is never even addressed. Seeing as how most of Allen's erudite audience would recognize the difference, it's surprising that he didn't just write a line that could explain this dichotomy (e.g., "We're both from Madrid, but we decided to come here to Barcelona instead").
Finally - and okay, make this three problems I had with the picture - the focus puller should have been sacked. Several scenes are noticeably blurry, and it wasn't the fault of the projector in the theater I went to.