Woody Allen‘s latest entry from his Grand Tour of European Cities, To Rome With Love, is a pleasant enough affair. I didn’t find it half as intoxicating as its smash hit predecessor Midnight in Paris, but it did elicit a few good chuckles from me and at least one good straight-up cackle (a Freudian gag from Allen, who could have guessed?). I laughed, and I was never much annoyed, so that makes it a winner of a comedy for me.
Generally speaking, I think that Allen’s films have gradually shifted away from being more character-driven, to being more situation-driven. His early films like Annie Hall, Manhattan–even ensemble pieces like Hannah and Her Sisters–are essentially character studies. To Rome With Love, on the other hand, is essentially four half-hour sitcoms intercut with one another and set–sometimes a little arbitrarily–in Rome.
If I was to try and pin down an over-arching theme for all the stories in To Rome With Love, it might be something to do with the absurd nature of celebrity and/or notoriety. This is best exemplified by the scenes centered on Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful), who plays an anonymous middle-class clerk who finds himself suddenly, inexplicably famous, with reporters besieging him one morning and reveling in the minutiae of his personal routines. There’s really not a whole lot more to his story than a simple, absurd extrapolation of Andy Warhol‘s famous prediction that “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Hilarity ensues.
The second story follows a young, seemingly innocent newlywed couple from a small Italian village coming to Rome for the first time and getting caught up in their respective propensities for infidelity. Upon arriving at their hotel, the bride (Alessandra Mastronardi) departs to find a hair salon, leading her on a wild goose chase through the streets following the locals’ hard-to-follow directions (this is probably the most Rome-centric gag in the film), eventually encountering a rather stout, ostensibly “sexy” Italian movie star who makes the moves on her. Meanwhile, her groom (Alessandro Tiberi) is besieged in his hotel room by an aggressive prostitute (Penelope Cruz), who has him mistaken for someone else. Naturally, his uncles arrive at the most inopportune moment and assume she is his wife. Hilarity ensues. Moving on…
The third story features Allen himself (his first onscreen appearance in one of his films since 2006’s Scoop) as an American opera producer who is visiting his daughter, her new boyfriend and his family in Rome. After overhearing the boyfriend’s father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) singing a few bars of Pagliacci in the shower, he becomes convinced that the man is a great undiscovered voice. He soon realizes that Giancarlo’s voice is lousy outside of the shower–but decides to go ahead and build a lavish production around him, accommodating this fact. Naturally, hilarity ensues.
The last and best of the interwoven storylines follows architecture student Jesse Eisenberg (as natural an Allen proxy as there ever was). He meets a veteran architect (Alec Baldwin) whom he idolizes and invites him home to the apartment he shares with his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig). She has invited her friend (Ellen Page) to stay with them, but mentions off-hand that men always end up adoring her. It’s easy enough to see where this will lead–Baldwin certainly does, and he interjects at every opportunity to warn Eisenberg of the dangers of her presence. This device is a tad peculiar, as the older man suddenly becomes a sort of spectral Greek chorus to the proceedings after being introduced as a flesh-and-blood character. Was there some crucial scene left on the cutting room floor wherein he gets sideswiped by a Vespa and is tasked with haunting Eisenberg before he can attain the afterlife? Probably not–Allen is typically loath to explain away any absurdity he utilizes. Never mind all that, though–Baldwin is genuinely funny, and this story is otherwise the most believable and substantial of the four.
There are no great surprises here when it comes to the level of humor Allen is working on–it remains literate, neurotic, and, as stated, sometimes pretty fancifully absurd. His beauty shots of the city are, predictably, plenty sumptuous, though he refrains from indulging in outright urban ogling as he does in the opening sequences of Manhattan or Midnight in Paris. It’s all quite pleasant and easy on the eyes, not a Woody Allen classic, but no outright dud either. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 1/15/13