Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are best friends from New York who are vacationing for the summer in Barcelona, Spain. Vicky is working on her dissertation about Catalan culture. Cristina, who has just made a 12-minute film for school, is seeking a romantic adventure. She is a free spirit who is not interested in boring traditional love relationships built on commitment. Vicky, on the other hand, is engaged to Doug (Chris Messina), a wealthy lawyer who is already planning for a house for them. These two very different women are the guests of Judy (Patricia Clarkson) and Mark (Kevin Dunn), distant relatives of Vicky's.

At an art gallery, Cristina is attracted to Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a handsome artist. He asks the two women to fly with him for a weekend trip to Oviedo where they can savor the culture, the food and wine, and make love together. Whereas Vicky finds his proposal to be outrageous, Cristina eagerly accepts and then convinces her friend to come along with them. Juan Antonio shows them a good time and speaks about his tempestuous relationship with Maria Elena, his ex-wife who once tried to kill him. Just before he is ready to make love with Cristina, she is felled by stomach trouble and retreats to her bed for the rest of the weekend. Juan Antonio takes Vicky to meet his father, a poet. Charmed at seeing his sensitive side, she allows him to seduce her.

Meanwhile, Doug has come up with a fantastic idea. He flies to Barcelona so that he and Vicky can be married in a small intimate ceremony. Juan Antonio re-establishes contact with Christina and she moves in with him. At last, she has found an ideal setting for her creativity to bloom. While he works on new paintings, she throws herself into her new interest, photography. But their romantic bliss is interrupted when Juan Antonio arrives at home one day with Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz). She has tried to commit suicide and he has decided to have her recuperate with them for a few months. Cristina is surprised when this passionate woman takes an interest in her photographs. Eventually, they end up in a ménage-a-trois, which is very satisfying for Cristina. But Vicky is now struggling with her traditional notion of marriage and is encouraged in this struggle when she learns that Judy is in the midst of an affair of her own.

Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona has a breezy and light-hearted feel to it that is aided by the beauty of Barcelona and the brisk narration about the American girls' European adventure. The writer and director challenges us to ponder four very different views of love: Vicky's yearning for a safe and predictable marriage, Cristina's ideal of an intimate relationship that is endlessly new and fresh, Juan Antonio's Don Juan approach, and Judy's tasting of adultery as a way of enduring a passionless marriage. Allen has often trained his lens on love desired, gained, and lost, and this romantic comedy is one of his more entertaining explorations of his favorite subject.