Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
To Rome With Love is your basic Woody Allen film, with the setting swapped out. This is the famed New Yorker's 41st feature film since 1969, an outstanding feat. While many of his films showed his love for all things New York, in recent years Woody has spread some of that love around the world from the UK (Match Point), to Spain (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), to France (last year's critically-acclaimed Midnight in Paris). It is now Rome's turn in the Woody Allen spotlight, acting as a backdrop to his usual dialogue-driven adventures.
Woody Allen recently admitted that many of his movie ideas come from scrap pieces of paper that he collected over the years. He has a closet-full of ideas and half-ideas, or even simple jokes scribbled down on hundreds if not thousands of tiny pieces of paper. When he goes to make a film, he simply goes to his stash and pulls out something new.
It comes as no surprise then, that many of his recent films feel like they are strung together by several of these notes and under-developed ideas. To his credit, To Rome With Love features many classic Allen-esque characters and one-liners and is one of his better recent films (I was in the minority last year that was not a big fan of Midnight in Paris...Hollywood Ending and Match Point being my favorite Woody Allen films of the past decade).
But it doesn't really know where to go. The film follows several different characters through story-threads that don't intermingle, with an element of fantasy sewn in. The common bond is that these stories all take place in Rome, but they could have happened anywhere really.
Alec Baldwin's character is a successful architect who has traveled back to Rome later in life after having lived there for one year as a college grad. He wanders around town and finds his younger self (Jesse Eisenberg), and we see him re-live some of his regrets involving his then-current girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) and her seductive friend (Ellen Page), lurking over them and interjecting what wisdom he has gained since then.
Roberto Benigni - perhaps best known for his Oscar win for the 1997 film, Life Is Beautiful (and his on-top-of-the-seats walk to the podium) - plays another character in the film, and becomes a celebrity for no apparent reason. It is Woody Allen's poke at modern celebrity culture, and contains the film's funniest moments not spout from the mouth of Allen himself. If I wasn't such a big fan of Benigni, I would say that this thread feels like a different movie altogether. A funny movie, but seemingly out of place here.
Then there is the story of a young Italian couple (Alessandra Mastronardi and Alessandro Tiberi), who get separated and each have a different sort of adventure. His involves meeting a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) who has to pretend that she is his wife, and she meets her favorite movie star. Don't ask.
Lastly there is the story involving Woody Allen's character and his wife (played by Allen favorite Judy Davis). They are in Rome to meet their daughter's boyfriend but are most impressed with the boy's father, Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato). Allen's character is a semi-retired music executive who overhears Giancarlo singing in the shower, and plans to make him a star. Much like the Warner Bros. frog, Giancarlo cannot simply sing on command.
It wouldn't be a Woody Allen film if a good percentage of the jokes didn't feel stale, and there is no disappointing there. But there is a charm and a nice tempo to the film that made it enjoyable if familiar.
All of the characters are dealing with similar themes of over-coming their fears, and the back and forth works for a large portion of the film. But then To Rome With Love doesn't know how to wrap up each story. They all hang like loose strands, and by the end you can just picture each idea presented in the film as scribbled notes on a piece of paper in Woody's closet.
To Rome With Love is good Woody Allen, but not great. Still, at 76 and on his way towards his 50th film, it is impressive how much Woody still has to say, even if some of it comes across like the complaints of an out-dated old geezer.
Run Time: 1 hour 42 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Flavio Parenti, Judy Davis, Alison Pill, Jesse Eisenberg, Penelope Cruz, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page
Written & Directed by Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris, Hollywood Ending, Annie Hall)
Opens locally Friday, July 6th, 2012
Looking for a specific movie or review?