Penélope Cruz must have been very happy when the Academy realized that Kate Winslet was a leading actress in The Reader and so made way for her to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the temperamental, hysteric and passionate Maria Elena in Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona.
Penélope Cruz’s performance is one of those that saves a rather boring and lifeless movie with an enormous amount of energy and scene-stealing. It takes a great deal of time before Penélope Cruz enters the movie for the first time and her screen-time is surprisingly limited – but she still the saving grace of the story, creating an unpredictable and wild character who is undoubtedly the highpoint of this movie.
Before Maria Elena enters the story of Vicky Christina Barcelona, her character has been mentioned quite a few times already and evoked all kind of expectations – Maria Elena is supposed to be wild and a little bit dangerous, even violent and all other kinds of characteristics that in a movie like this would be called ‘passionate’. And Penélope Cruz manages to match all these expectations – but her Maria Elena is also more. There is something magnetic about her, she’s the kind of woman people would love to be around.
Penélope Cruz’s Maria Elena is not only temperamental and unpredictable – she is also honest and likeable. The biggest achievement of Penélope Cruz is that she did not turn Maria Elena into some kind of diva – when she is looking at Christina’s photos and tells her that they are wonderful, you just believe her because you know she is serious. At the beginning, Maria Elena may look at Christina with an expression that says that this young, naive girl from America isn’t even worth a fight but later she finds a way to communicate with her.
Maria Elena is not a very well written character – she’s there to point out the obvious, to make the other characters re-think their own actions and thoughts but she is never really given the chance to become her own person. So Penélope Cruz deserves some extra points for making her such a force of nature on the screen and brining the whole movie to another level whenever she appears.
It’s a very realistic performance of a certain type of woman that Penélope Cruz brings to live beautifully.