Depending on the movie, I’m a big Woody Allen fan. He was one of my early idols. When my partner and I were writing spec scripts we would often play his stand-up routine album to get revved up. I still think ANNIE HALL is hard to beat as the best romantic comedy ever. At his best he is the best.
It’s just that he hasn’t been his best for a really long time. Year after year he cranks out movies faster than Apple rolls out new iPod models. And like iPods usually it’s the exact same product with a different size or color. Even his best received film of late, MATCH POINT. was just recycled CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS. (I was less enthusiastic about that movie than others. Inspector Clouseau is a better detective than those London buffoons.)
But apparently no one has told the Writers Guild that he is no longer the Woody Allen of BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, HANNAH & HER SISTERS, CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS, and LOVE & DEATH. He is now the Woody Allen of SCOOP, HOLLYWOOD ENDING, and THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION. And yet, year after year Allen is honored for his various screenplays. He recently received his 19th WGA nomination for VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA. Really? Of all the original screenplays that were produced this year that was one of the best five?
I saw VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA. It was nice. My order of preference: Vicky, Barcelona, Christina. Rebecca Hall and Penelope Cruz gave wonderful performances. And Woody wasn’t in it himself so we weren’t asked to believe that Tea Leoni would ever go to bed with him, so that was a big plus. But the screenplay was incredibly lazy.
He just used the narration device to tell the entire story. To the point where it was almost amateurish. The movie opens with Vicky and Christina in a taxi driving through the city. The narrator tells us not only why they’re there, what they’re looking to achieve but also defines their characters. This one is a free spirit. This one is very clenched and engaged to someone whose biggest attribute is that he’s boring. And then we just see examples of what we’ve been told.
That’s good storytelling? Three minutes of bald exposition? How about finding ways to show us who these people are? I know, that’s the hard part, but if you write one screenplay a year instead of four you can achieve it.
And yet he is rewarded. Another “Best Original Screenplay” nomination.
Early in the movie they go away for a weekend. The narrator tells us when they arrived, that they checked into the hotel, went to lunch and what they talked about at lunch. I’m sorry. This is staggeringly bad writing.
The story itself sort of plods along until Penelope’s character arrives. And I’m not sure whether I loved her because of her performance or just the fact that something actually happened.
Part of my disgust is that Woody Allen is capable of so much more. If he pushes himself. The way he did when he had something to prove. But if Allen keeps getting recognition for working at half speed what's his motivation to do better? Don't encourage him! Challenge him!
If you want to nominate VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA for a writing award, fine. But it should be for “Best Short Story Prose” not "Best Screenplay".