- Rated R
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All photos © Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by Ezra Stead
n his two most recent films, Woody Allen has apparently decided to romanticize two of the great European cities as places where magical, impossible things can happen. Though his latest, “To Rome with Love,” is better than last year's wildly overrated “Midnight in Paris,” it is still very much set in a place far removed from actual human experience. To be fair, this is intentional in both cases, but it also allows Allen to indulge in some of his laziest, sloppiest writing. Thankfully, no one utters the phrase, “I'm having an epiphany” in this one as Owen Wilson did in the awful third act of “Midnight in Paris,” but there is still much to be desired in character development and nuance.
On the other hand, the light, whimsical touch of the movie’s four basically unrelated stories makes it an enjoyable enough comedy, even if the stories are rather uneven in quality, and two of them are essentially one-joke sketches drawn out almost to the breaking point. The best of the bunch features Alec Baldwin as John, a wealthy architect on vacation in Rome, where he lived for one year as a much younger man. Walking the quiet little streets in search of his former neighborhood, he encounters Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), who may or may not be himself as a younger man. Throughout this vignette, John appears as the voice of reason at Jack's side, though he is also introduced as a separate character to Jack's girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig), and later also gives unsolicited advice to her and her friend, Monica (Ellen Page). Allen intentionally keeps the true nature of John's existence ambiguous, but despite a game performance from Baldwin, the approach feels sloppy more than anything else.
Still, this segment of the film offers some interesting insight into the nature of human relationships, especially the idea of regret in hindsight, a theme it shares with the film's second best vignette. Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) are a newlywed couple who part ways briefly before they are scheduled to meet with Antonio's family, who have never met Milly. In a mix-up that nods to Allen's love of screwball comedy, Milly gets lost on the Roman streets and Antonio is forced to pass off Anna (Penelope Cruz), a prostitute who is sent to his room by mistake, as his new bride. Meanwhile, Milly has an irresistible encounter with movie star Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese), and the love between Antonio and Milly seems to be ultimately strengthened by this taste of what might have been.
The other two vignettes are clever, high-concept pieces with interesting hooks that gradually wear thin as they play out. The better of the two involves Roberto Benigni as Leopoldo Pisanello, a boring, average man who suddenly and inexplicably becomes famous for no reason at all. It is an amusing satirical comment on the cult of celebrity in an age when so many stars are famous simply for being famous, but it ultimately takes too long to wrap up its premise and proves to be a bit predictable. The same is true of the film's weakest segment, which finds Allen himself as retired opera director Jerry, who flies to Rome to meet the parents of his daughter's fiancée, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). While staying in their home, he is pleasantly surprised to discover that Michelangelo's father, Giancarlo (real-life tenor Fabio Armiliato), has an incredible operatic singing voice, but can only utilize it while singing in the shower. If you can't guess where this one goes, I won't spoil it for you.
All in all, this is a fun but slight and predictable film from an old master who is long past his prime. At one point, Jerry's wife, Phyllis (Judy Davis), correctly surmises that he equates retirement with death, and it takes no great leap of imagination to apply this truth to Allen as well. The trouble is, Allen's immortality as a filmmaker has already been assured, and it's been a long time since he made a film that didn't feel like a sad shadow of his former greatness. “To Rome with Love” is above the bar he's set with much of his recent work, but falls well short of most of his past.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Woody Allen's movies rarely include many extras, and this one is no exception. There's a short making-of featurette titled "Con Amore: A Passion for Rome" that's built around interviews with producer Letty Aronson and some of the cast, but unfortunately, that's all.