TO ROME WITH LOVE (Dir. Woody Allen, 2012)
This year’s Woody Allen film is a Rome-set ensemble rom-com, but you could probably guess that from its trite title. It’s a blend of several disconnected story strands, that comes off like Allen is cleaning out his notebooks of jotted down ideas without fully fleshing them out.
There is a bit of the winning charm of Allen’s last film, the hugely popular MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, mainly in a scenario which has a sly Alec Baldwin revisiting his youth through Jesse Eisenberg (a perfect fit for an Allen film) who finds himself in a love triangle with Ellen Page and Greta Gerwig.
And there’s some amusement from Allen, acting onscreen for the first time since 2006’s SCOOP, as a classical music promoter trying to make an opera star out of his daughter Alison Pill’s fiancée (Flavio Parenti) who can only sing in the shower.
But mostly TO ROME WITH LOVE is a trifle; a fluffy only fitfully funny film. Yet it so pleasantly breezes along with such gorgeous photography of its Italian locales by Darius Khondji, that it’s still a likable lark.
Take, for instance, Roberto Benigni’s storyline - Benigni plays a man who wakes up one morning to find that he’s become the most famous person in Italy, but for no given reason. The press follows him everywhere, recording his every moment, much to Benigni’s bemusement.
Throughout his career, Allen has so much better satirized the media’s obsession with meaningless celebrity (see 1998’s CELEBRITY), than this silly go-round, but here he seems to be having such fun with it that it’s hard not to chuckle - even if it’s just a few mild chuckles worth.
Another strand, maybe the most sitcom-ish, concern Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi as newlyweds who have to separately deal with the sexual temptations of a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) and a famous actor (Antonio Albanese). The comedy in this bit creaks more than in the others, and the payoff is extremely predictable, but Cruz, stunning as she’s ever looked on the screen, still makes it pop.
I was happy to see Allen back in his familiar role as the neurotic nebbish, and married to Judy Davis (a veteran of 4 previous Allen movies), but wished he came equipped with better one-liners. It says a lot that the role he gave himself is as underwritten as everybody else's.
TO ROME WITH LOVE is an average later day Woody Allen film - it’s better than SCOOP, TO MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER, and WHATEVER WORKS, but not as good as VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS or MATCH POINT. For a 76-year old film maker who puts out a movie a year, that’s not a bad batting average.