The movie starts in narration (Christopher Evan Welch) about Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson). They’re both sitting in the car riding in silence. He narrates that Vicky is in Barcelona to complete her graduate program while Cristina just got out of a relationship that ended in a bad breakup and needed to get away. So as a result Vicky invited her to go along at the last minute. The narrator starts to tell about how they’re both very good friends and have a lot in common. The only thing they don’t have in common is how they feel about love. Vicky believes in things being steady and meaningful and as the story is being narrated she answers her phone. Her steady fiancé is on the other end and they talk as the narrator switches to talk about Cristina and past relationships she’s been in that haven’t been so steady. She believes that if love is complicated no matter the drama you have to endure, it entails true love. The narrator also states that she hates the idea of stability or in other words Vicky’s relationship. As he says this Vicky gets off the phone and they ride on.
They arrive at the house they’ll be staying in for the summer. The owner, Judy (Patricia Clarkson), greets them at the door and tells them that she is glad they arrived safely. She shows them around and takes them to their room while Cristina apologizes for agreeing to come at the last minute to stay in Judy’s house. Judy says it’s fine and that she’s glad they came because things started to get a little quiet and they need the excitement. They later eat dinner on the balcony with Judy’s husband, Mark (Kevin Dunn). Judy and Mark ask Vicky what her major is and she tells them as they are intrigued and ask her why. She explains and they ask Cristina what she does. She says she’s undefined but Vicky goes on to tell them Cristina made a 12 minute movie that she wrote, produced, and acted in. They ask her what it’s about and she tells them about love and how it affects people. Mark comments that it would be hard to put all that in 12 minutes and they laugh together.
The story goes back into narration showing the 2 walking around Barcelona looking at all the statues, monuments, and in museums for about 2 weeks. In one of these scenes the narrator mentions that Vicky loves to listen to the Spanish guitar. It shows because she stares at the man playing as if she’s lost in the music. Judy and Mark also invite the 2 for a ride on their boat. They try to set Cristina up with a business associate of Mark’s. You can tell she’s not interested because he doesn’t seem to be her type and is too straight laced for her. They are then invited to an art gallery by Judy and Mark for an artist having an opening. At the gallery while looking at the paintings, Cristina asks Judy if a man in a red shirt is the artist. Judy asks who she is referring to and Cristina points him out. Judy sees him and says no it’s another man in a linen suit. She starts to remember the man in the red shirt is Juan Antonio Gonzolo; he’s a painter, and his messy public divorce that was all in the press and asks Mark if he remembers any details. Mark says he does remember how Juan Antonio beat his wife and how his wife tried to kill him and starts to get uncomfortable. But despite the stories being told Cristina seems interested in him. She turns around and starts staring at Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem).
Vicky and Cristina go to dinner after the opening. They’re sitting down drinking wine while Cristina keeps staring at Juan Antonio. Cristina keeps asking Vicky about him and notices that he keeps staring at them. Vicky says he keeps staring because she’s looking over and causing attention. No sooner after she says that Juan Antonio walks over to them and says hello. Cristina is instantly smitten with him while Vicky is already annoyed. He starts talking to them and asks Cristina what color her eyes are. She tells him they are blue. He keeps talking to them and invites them to join him for a weekend in Oviedo. Vicky says to do what. Juan Antonio says to sightsee, drink wine, and to make love. Vicky asks us as in whom and he says all 3 of them. Vicky immediately says no but Cristina thinks a weekend with him would be fun. Vicky asks why he came over and asked them and he tells them he thinks their beautiful. Cristina then tells him her eyes are green. Juan Antonio mentions that it’s a nice offer and they should think about it and he leaves. Cristina tries to convince Vicky that it’s a nice offer but Vicky says no since he beat his wife and they don’t know him. Vicky’s cell phone rings and she answers it and it’s her fiancé again. While on the phone Cristina keeps badgering Vicky to go to Oviedo while she says no it’s a big mistake. Her fiancé asks what’s going on while Vicky explains that she’s trying to stop Cristina from making a bad and potentially fatal decision for the weekend. She hangs up and says no for the last time.
That same night they’re on a plane with Juan Antonio while it’s storming. Cristina’s excited while Juan Antonio flies the plane and tells her about the storm and how it’s not that bad and they should be OK. Vicky is very nervous and upset about the whole trip and doesn’t say a word. Juan Antonio asks Cristina if she wants to give it a try but she hesitates. He convinces her to try it and Vicky gets even more upset.
They land safely and check into a hotel. Juan Antonio says he got both of them their own rooms so they would be comfortable and says goodnight. The next day is being narrated while they all go sightseeing. They all take pictures of Oviedo enjoying the parks and monuments. The narrator mentions that Vicky is still skeptical of Juan Antonio but still enjoys the day spent in Oviedo. The whole time Cristina is taking pictures. While showing them an architectural piece he mentions his ex-wife and how she tried to kill him. Vicky says he had to do something to deserve it and they laugh together. That evening they sit in the lobby of the hotel and Juan Antonio mentions that since it’s at night he should ask about the prospect of sex happening. Vicky says no and mentions when she drinks she gets frank. She says frankly he’s not over his ex-wife and he just drowns out his pain in empty sex. He asks if she thinks so low of herself that he would see her and Cristina as just empty sex. Cristina then tells him Vicky’s engaged and Juan Antonio says she’s still free. Vicky gets upset and says she’s not free she’s engaged and does make love to her fiancé with meaning unlike Juan Antonio and says goodnight storming off. Cristina then says goodnight and goes upstairs. Not much later Cristina comes to Juan Antonio’s room and says she came to thank him for the trip and for a glass of wine and then to say goodnight. He asks her if she acted in a film and she says yes. He then says he hopes she did better than what she’s doing now since it’s obvious that she came to have sex. She admits she did but isn’t sure if it will work out. He says what he could do to ruin the mood. She says he could be wearing the wrong shorts but by looking at him he probably isn’t. He says she’s very picky and you start to see how neurotic she is when it comes to love. He asks her what else she wants besides a guy with the right shorts. She says she doesn’t really know and he stops her by kissing her. But soon Cristina feels sick and Juan Antonio asks if she’s OK. She says no she thinks it’s something she ate and says she’s going to be sick and runs to the bathroom.
The next morning Vicky, Juan Antonio, and a doctor are in Cristina’s room. The doctor tells her it’s her ulcer that ruined her. He mentions it might’ve been contaminated food but it was mostly her ulcer. Because she’s sick she tells Vicky and Juan Antonio to go sight see without her. Vicky hesitates but she goes with him. The narrator tells the story about their day and how Vicky starts to warm up to Antonio. They sit on a wall edge over looking the water and Juan Antonio asks Vicky if she wants to meet his dad or if it would be too much for her. She says no she’ll go and see his old house. They arrive at his father’s and his father openly greets him. Vicky tells his father that his house is beautiful in Spanish but stops saying she’ll probably screw it up after that. Juan Antonio tells her it’s OK but mentions his father doesn’t speak English or any other language. Because he’s a poet he feels that if he speaks another language it will dilute his work and the poetry wouldn't be as beautiful. Vicky says she could get him published but Juan Antonio says no he wouldn't like that. She asks why and Juan Antonio says he’ll explain later. His father then offers both of them a glass of Cognac and she says yes and they drink. While drinking, Juan Antonio’s father asks him about his ex-wife Maria Elena. He tells him she moved to Madrid to live with an architect. His father says he’s disappointed it didn’t work out because he still has erotic dreams about Maria Elena at night. The whole conversation is in Spanish. Juan Antonio walks Vicky around his father’s garden and starts to explain why his father won’t get published. His father is angry with the world because it has forgotten how to love. Vicky says she understands and they go to sit with his father at the table in front of his house.
That night Juan Antonio and Vicky go out to dinner and while drinking wine he asks her if she would like to see his paintings. She says yes to his surprise. He tells her he’s surprised since she was skeptical about coming with him for a weekend. She said why not since his paintings are the same subject as her major. At the moment her phone rings and it’s her fiancé. Doug (Chris Messina) calls telling her he’s ready to settle on a house in Bedford and asks her what she thinks. She says it sounds good and then starts faking that her phone’s breaking up. He tells her goodbye and she mentions the reception is bad. Juan Antonio asks her why she was blushing when he called. Vicky makes an excuse that it’s probably the wine but he doesn’t believe her. He asks if she feels guilty for being out with him and if her fiancé would be jealous. She says the initial thought of it wouldn't be easy to accept, but that he would understand because he trusts her. Juan Antonio then mentions he knows she loves to hear the Spanish guitar and she says yes. He asks her to see a performance but she at first declines saying it’s late. He convinces her by saying it’s her last night in Oviedo and she should go with him. They go hear the guitarist play and make eye contact showing sparks flying between them. After the performance they walk home and mention the moment they had with eye contact. He leans in closer to her and they start kissing. She tries to fight it but it’s a failed attempt as they fall to the ground and make love that night.
The next day they’re all on the plane while Cristina keeps talking about how sorry she is for getting sick on the trip. She said she’s glad they didn’t kill each other and got along well while sightseeing the whole day. You can tell Vicky feels guilty and doesn’t talk the whole flight back.
The narrator tells how Vicky buries herself in her studies to forget about what happened with Juan Antonio at the library when they get back to Barcelona. But it’s a failed attempt because it’s all she can think about. Next Vicky is outside on her laptop. Cristina runs to Vicky to tell her that Juan Antonio called. She’s excited that he called because he hadn't called for a while and she thought he forgot about them. You can tell Cristina’s excited about him coming but Vicky’s not, remembering the night they had. But instead of telling Cristina what happened, Vicky says she’s happy for her and ignores her feelings.
Juan Antonio comes to get Cristina and they tour around Barcelona while Vicky stays home and studies. The narrator gives the details of their touring when Juan Antonio takes Cristina to his house. He shows her his paintings and tells her how he hasn’t thought about making love to another woman in his bed since his ex-wife until Cristina came along. Of course the inevitable happens and they make love in his bed that day spent at his house. Later that night she goes back to her house and can’t stop thinking about Juan Antonio while writing in the kitchen. Upstairs Vicky can’t stop thinking about what happened and gets a call from Doug right before falling asleep. She answers and Doug tells her he misses her thinking it would be a good idea if one of his colleagues could set up a trip to Barcelona to come see her and they could get married at a city hall and have the big wedding in the fall back in New York City. You can tell Vicky’s thinking about Juan Antonio and is about to say no. Doug says she doesn’t sound very excited and thought it would be cool and a good story to tell their kids. She reluctantly changes her mind and says yes she thinks it’s a good idea and hangs up.
Cristina and Juan Antonio tour around Barcelona more and stay at his house making love. One day Juan Antonio runs into Vicky at the library. They say hello and the moment is very awkward. She gets the courage to say he didn’t call her after sleeping with her. He says he wanted to call but didn’t because he has feelings for her and Cristina. Vicky says if he felt anything he would've called her. Juan Antonio says since she’s engaged they should forget about it and realize what they had was great and they need to move on. Vicky then lets it go and tells him good buy and goes inside. As she leaves you can tell Juan Antonio isn’t happy about her leaving him for Doug. The next day Doug arrives in Spain. The whole time Vicky is uneasy about him being there but Doug doesn’t recognize it. That night they have sex and afterwards Doug mentions that Vicky had never been that into it before. She asks if he meant she wasn’t that good and he says no she just seemed more passionate (probably because of the night with Juan Antonio). They begin to talk about Cristina and Doug calls her easy or not much to work for. Vicky defends her saying she’s not easy she just likes to experiment. Doug says that Vicky was much harder to get into bed but was worth the wait. They cuddle and fall asleep. The next day Cristina calls Vicky to ask her and Doug to come spend the day with her and Juan Antonio. Doug doesn’t want to because his friends are there and he would rather spend a day with them. Vicky says no and Doug reluctantly goes along with her. They spend the day at an amusement park and go to lunch. While at lunch Juan Antonio tries to rub his foot against Cristina’s but instead rubs it against Vicky’s and she ignores it (at first). Later at the top of a building Vicky takes Juan Antonio to a secluded corner asking him why he’s seeing Cristina after what happened between them. He says that they’re a better fit and she’s engaged and is about to get everything she ever wanted. Vicky says she thought that was what she wanted until he rubbed his foot against hers. He says it was meant for Cristina and apologizes. Vicky also says sorry and the next day marries Doug at city hall.
Later on Cristina has moved in with Juan Antonio. She moves in with him and things seem to be going smoothly. That is until one night his phone rings. He answers it and starts speaking in Spanish. You can tell something’s wrong because he hangs up and leaves telling Cristina that he’ll be back. She can’t sleep and makes herself some coffee. Juan Antonio comes home with his ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz). She looks distressed and starts crying and rambling on in Spanish. Juan Antonio tells her to speak English because Cristina can’t understand her. She beats herself up for being so stupid, obviously her and the architect didn’t work out. She then starts speaking Spanish again and Juan Antonio tells her to speak English again. She refuses and tells him he doesn’t care about her. He says she was crazy taking a ton of pills to kill herself and he must’ve cared if he came to get her. Cristina feels uncomfortable and decides to leave. Juan Antonio convinces her to stay and she says OK after he sends Maria Elena to the guest room. He tells Cristina what she did and she says OK maybe Maria Elena can stay for a while or can seek therapy. He says that’s pointless because she’s seen so many therapists and it hasn’t helped her. He also says that Maria Elena needs to stay for another 6 months to get right and Cristina looks shocked and upset. She then goes upstairs and tries to sleep. Juan Antonio goes to the guest room to make Maria Elena’s bed. She tells him she doesn’t like Cristina because she’s not right for him and that he’s never gotten over their break up. He says he has because he slept with another American tourist (Vicky) that was just like Maria Elena but isn’t in love with her. She doesn’t buy it and keeps saying he’s not over her and she still doesn’t like Cristina because she thinks she’ll run off and break his heart. They get into an argument and he leaves her alone.
The next morning all three of them are eating breakfast outside. Maria Elena starts speaking Spanish again and Juan Antonio tells her to speak English again. She then asks if Cristina can’t speak Spanish and she responds no but she took Chinese. Maria Elena asks her why she took Chinese and Cristina says she thinks it sounds pretty. Maria Elena asks her to say something in Chinese and Cristina obliges. Of course Maria Elena isn’t impressed because in Spanish she says she thinks Chinese sounds like a constant drill. You never hear of anyone saying anything nice about a Chinese restaurant. Juan Antonio tells her to speak English again and she walks to the pond behind his house. He proceeds to tell Cristina that he wants to paint while Maria Elena yells for him to tell her how he stole her ideas. She says she influenced him to paint and even at art school the teacher called her a genius. He says she didn’t influence all his work and he did get inspiration from other things. She sits down and says she always loved him and he said yes until she tried to kill him. Maria Elena says he made a play for someone else’s daughter with his eyes. This is when you see she’s a loose cannon. They keep arguing while Cristina sits and looks confused.
Now newlyweds, Vicky and Doug are walking around Barcelona touring the city. Doug runs into a colleague with his wife and they have dinner together. His colleague mentions how he’s so excited that he’s about to install a wired system for his house while Doug converses along with the same excitement. He then says to Vicky it’ll be great when they move to Bedford. Vicky looks distant and disappointed not responding at all. At the same time the narrator talks about Vicky taking language classes to better her Spanish. In class a fellow student, Ben (Pablo Schreiber), takes a liking to her. Ben asks Vicky her reason for being in Barcelona and she tells him. When they get to the front of the building Ben asks her to go out. They go out around town. One day at the market Ben takes Vicky’s hand. Vicky freaks out and tells him she’s married. Ben says he’s aware but couldn’t resist the temptation. This shows more how Vicky is starting to regret her decision with marrying Doug. She ends everything right then and there so she won’t do the same thing with Ben she did with Juan Antonio.
Judy and Mark throw another party at their home. Vicky leaves the room and sees Judy kissing another man. She runs off pretending she doesn’t see it. Judy feels bad and later tells Vicky that she’s not in love with Mark anymore. She loves him but fell out of love with him a long time ago. You can tell Vicky sees herself in Judy in the future. Judy claims her therapist says she needs to leave but Judy says she’s scared and doesn’t know where she’ll go after that. Vicky sits there to comfort her while still thinking of herself and what she’ll do.
Meanwhile, Cristina, Juan Antonio, and Maria Elena seem to be getting along well while the narrator tells they eat together and decide to make a picnic on the hills. Juan Antonio asks Cristina if it’s OK remembering her ulcer. She says she’ll be fine and they bike together for the picnic. As Cristina and Juan Antonio lay out the blanket his shoulder starts bothering him. She tries to comfort him while Maria Elena watches them from the side. Cristina offers him some aspirin and gets her purse. When she comes back Maria Elena starts rubbing his back and neck saying because he doesn’t show emotional pain it all goes to his head and pains his back and shoulders. Maria Elena says as artists they have a lot of emotion and need to let it out somehow and then asks Cristina what she’s talented at. Cristina says she doesn’t have a talent but Maria Elena says she does its taking pictures. She asks how she knows and Maria Elena fesses that she went though Cristina’s stuff and saw her photos. Cristina gets upset that Maria Elena went through her stuff and asks why. She says that she was afraid that Cristina might’ve wanted to kill her since she was thinking of doing it herself. They get back to the house and look at her pictures in admiration. They all go to the park and take more pictures as Maria Elena tells Cristina to use an old camera instead of a digital one for better pictures. She tells Cristina that her and Juan Antonio are building a dark room for her to practice her photography because she’ so talented. The story goes to narration as Cristina’s in the dark room making photographs and taking more pictures. They also go to Juan Antonio’s father’s house and he greets Maria Elena as if he missed her and is glad she’s back. They go inside and talk. Later on Maria Elena and Juan Antonio ask Cristina to leave so they can make love. She goes outside feeling uncomfortable but accepts it and moves on. Later on Maria Elena tells Cristina they had everything else except for one thing and it was her. Her laid back personality was what they needed to make their relationship work and her there keeps them at peace.
Cristina calls Vicky to see her and Doug. They go see Cristina as she tells them about her life with Juan Antonio and Maria Elena. Doug judges her the whole time because she’s with them as a couple and thinks it can’t be healthy. Vicky says she’s just experimenting and Doug asks if she would do it. Vicky says she isn’t as and Doug interrupts her by saying easy. Vicky says no not as brave as Cristina. Doug seems disgusted that she thinks of Cristina as brave for living such a lifestyle. Cristina then goes on to tell them she also made love with Maria Elena. She tells them the story as the scene flashes back to Cristina and Maria Elena in the dark room. While Cristina’s making photos, Maria Elena looks at her waiting for her to hang another picture. Cristina walks over as Maria Elena seduces her and they kiss. Back at lunch Vicky asks Cristina if she liked it and she says yes. Cristina says she probably wouldn’t do it again but enjoyed it for the time being. Doug then says he’s not one to judge and keeps quiet though you can tell his facial expression says otherwise.
Back at the house, Vicky’s getting ready for bed while Doug is working on his laptop. He asks her what she’s thinking about. She says nothing and he says he knows she’s thinking about Cristina’s recent tryst in the dark room. She sits on the bed and Doug starts to seduce her. She gives in and they tumble to the bed.
The story narrates about Cristina, Maria Elena, and Juan Antonio living together. Because things are so peaceful, Juan Antonio feels inspired to paint while Maria Elena paints as well. They also work with Cristina in the dark room and make love together when the mood is right. But soon, true to form, Cristina starts to have thoughts and feelings or restlessness and wants to leave. She tells Juan Antonio she can’t stay and needs to get away. Maria Elena gets very upset and tells Juan Antonio she knew Cristina would leave them in Spanish. Again Juan Antonio tells her to speak English while Cristina’s around. Cristina apologizes and tells them it’s to them it’s her. She moves back in with Vicky and tells her she needs to go to Paris to think things through. Cristina leaves while Vicky’s stuck with her own thoughts. After Cristina leaves Maria Elena and Juan Antonio start fighting and soon part ways.
At a museum Vicky tells Judy about what happened between her and Juan Antonio. Judy asks her why she won’t act upon her feelings and Vicky said she trusted Judy and needed to tell someone. Judy says she sees Mark in Doug and thinks Vicky should get out while she’s still young. Vicky tells Judy she’s only doing this because she’s trying to live her life through Vicky. Judy ignores her and makes arrangements for a party to make Vicky and Juan Antonio purposefully bump into each other. At the party Vicky gets something to eat. Juan Antonio calls her out and they begin to talk. She says she was surprised to see him and he says because it’s a party of an old friend’s he felt obligated to come. He says she wants to see her again before she leaves and she turns down his offer. The next day he calls her while she and Doug are out shopping in the village. Juan Antonio calls her cell phone telling her he needs to see her before she leaves. Vicky tells him she’s married and shouldn’t be talking to him. Juan Antonio tells her he can’t stop thinking about her because Judy told him about Vicky’s confession and how unhappy she is with Doug. Juan Antonio tells Vicky to meet him tomorrow for lunch at the corner of the street. She hangs up and Doug asks her who it was. She tells him it was her language teacher and he wanted to meet her for a lunch to say goodbye. Doug thinks it’s a good idea and a nice gesture and they go back to shopping.
The next day Vicky stands on the corner and Juan Antonio picks her up in his car. They drive to his house and Vicky compliments his paintings. She sees another painting and tells him to be frank it looks very angry. He tells her it’s a painting Maria Elena made. He inches in closer to her and they start kissing. But the kiss is interrupted by a gun shot. Maria Elena randomly shows up at his house with a gun and starts shooting at them. She shoots again as Juan Antonio walks over to stop her. Maria Elena tells him she can’t keep living like this and wants to kill herself. He tells her to stop and to put the gun down. Vicky snaps and says they’re both crazy and she can’t make a relationship work with him because of his relationship with his ex-wife. Maria Elena takes the gun and shoots again accidentally hitting Vicky’s hand. She starts screaming in pain while Juan Antonio freaks out.
Back at the house Doug says he doesn’t know why her language teacher shot her by accident. Vicky says he had a gun collection and pulled the trigger by accident. Doug suggests they sue him because of what he did but Vicky says no he didn’t mean it and leaves it at that. Cristina soon returns for Paris and Vicky tells her everything that happened between her and Juan Antonio. Cristina feels bad and tells her she should’ve told her and she would’ve gotten out of the way. Vicky says she knew that Cristina liked him and didn’t want to ruin it for her. They agree that it wouldn’t have worked and finish their coffee. The summer has come to an end as the three of them get back to the airport in New York City and the narrator tells of Vicky sticking with her decision of going with the life she always wanted and Cristina remaining neurotic about love and undecided about her life.
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