If Metropolitan is a masterful balance in tone, Barcelona adds an extra layer of thematic balance. Simultaneously satirizing misguided global American patriotism and hatemongering anti-American propaganda, Barcelona mocks those foolish enough to allow political ideology to blind them to truth and the need for moderation.
On one end of the spectrum is Fred Boynton (Chris Eigeman), a Navy officer who decides to “visit” his cousin Ted Boynton (Taylor Nichols) in Barcelona. Fred is part of an attempt to slowly begin to cycle in a larger American military presence in Barcelona, a forward agent to gauge how the populous feels about America.
He quickly learns of the heavy anti-American sentiment and proceeds to stir up a ruckus about it. From his attempt to re-appropriate negative graffiti to sabotaging Ted’s arguments with others about America’s global role, Fred devotion quickly morphs into indignation and superiority, which bring out the worst traits of Americans abroad: the rude, brazen and entitled foreigner.
On the other end of the spectrum is Ramone (Pep Munné), one of Barcelona’s biggest journalists who writes a number of false and inflammatory articles about the evils of America. His conspiracy theory slant and reliance on pure conjecture are amplified by his audience’s naive acceptance that American must indeed be such a great evil: a country of nasty hamburgers, obscene crime rates and rampant militantism.
The film is more about the romances of Ted, who’s been working in the Barcelona branch of an American company for some time now. However, these thematic undertones are part of what contextualize the issues that face Ted’s romance. After all, is it possible to find a true romance in Barcelona when the women have been indoctrinated with such an anti-American mindset?
While Ted does a good job of curtailing his identity as an American, the presence of Fred begins to draw out bits and pieces that quickly result in a number of romantic conflicts. Fred is not wholly to blame for these romantic conflicts. The recent sexual revolution leads to the women in Barcelona seeing romance as open flings that last until the next romantic flame is lit.
This leads to many of the women being loose, noncommittal, and unable to draw boundaries needed in order to allow a romance to flourish. This open outlook spills over into other facets of life which lead many of the women to be dishonest and untrustworthy. On the other hand, the way Tom reacts to the phenomena is superficial and discriminatory.
And this is just one strain of how Stillman works ideas into the dramatic and comedic fabric of the film. There are also religious overtones, business philosophies and interpersonal dynamics that contextualize and inform the stories of Barcelona. While not quite as charming and amusing as Metropolitan, the added complexity shows that Stillman is interested in evolving and pushing the boundaries of his style.
© 2012 James Blake Ewing