To Rome With Love
by M. Faust
On the Road Again
To Rome With Love
Having left Manhattan to make films in England, Spain, and France, Woody Allen continued his westward trek across Europe with To Rome With Love. One wonders where he’s headed next. Across the Asiatic Sea to Montenegro, perhaps? Or maybe north to Austria for the ultimate Nazi comedy. He could even stay where he is and do a movie in Vatican City, though he’d be laboring in the shadow of Nanni Moretti’s splendid We Have a Pope, which unfortunately doesn’t seem to be coming to a Buffalo theatre anytime soon.
(A visit to imdb.com doesn’t say where his next film will be set, but get this cast list: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay!)
Allen’s Roman holiday finds himself still in the same sunny mood as last year’s Midnight in Paris, one of his most commercially successful films.
To Rome with Love is one of his multistory films, and I can advise you in advance not to worry about trying to figure out how the four threads connect because they don’t. They’re intercut but they’re not even set in the same time frame: One of them takes place in a single afternoon, one is spread out over at least several weeks, the others somewhere in between.
Allen, who at 76 is now the kvetchy old guy he has always acted like, appears in one as a retired music executive. He’s visiting Rome with his wife (Judy Davis, adding her usual tartness to the brew) to meet their daughter’s fiancée and his family. His father is a mortician who sings opera with a beautiful voice—but only in the shower. Determined to revisit his dream of being a successful opera producer, Allen decides he can get around this obstacle, if only he can convince his future in-law that he wants to be famous.
Roberto Benigni stars in the funniest thread as a “dependable, predictable, agreeable” middle-class family man. He has lots of opinions on political and cultural issues that no one wants to hear until the morning when a limousine whisks him to a television station and he is interviewed on the morning news. He becomes an instant celebrity even though people only ask him about the most banal topics, like what he had for breakfast.
Young Italian stars Alessandra Mastronardi and Alessandro Tiberi play provincial newlyweds in Rome for their honeymoon who become separated before the big night. He becomes attached to a prostitute (Penélope Cruz, who looks like she stepped right out of a Fellini movie) while his virginal bride wanders onto a film set and attracts the attention of a lecherous film star.
Back in English, Jesse Eisenberg is an architectural student whose happy relationship is tested when his girlfriend’s best friend, a narcissistic actress, comes to visit. Given that the former is played by Greta Gerwig and the latter by Ellen Page at her most charmless, it’s hard to see where the temptation comes from.
Which may be the point. Allen is revisiting two of his favorite themes here: the vicissitudes of love and the banality of fame. To be honest, each of the threads play like ideas he discarded when he realized they were too similar to territory he had already covered. Leftovers aren’t so bad if they were good in the first place and you don’t have to make a whole meal out of them: better a short but familiar story than a labored full-length feature like Anything Else or Melinda and Melinda. His depiction of the Eternal City may be the stuff of picture postcards, but it’s not unpleasant—sometimes tourists have a better eye for a city’s charms than the locals.
It’s hardly the greatest film Woody Allen has ever made. But it offers enough small pleasures to outweigh the formula jokes and comic ideas that overstay their welcome.
Watch the trailer for To Rome With Love
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