A film review by Craig J. Koban July 18, 2012
TO ROME WITH LOVE
2011, R, 111 mins.
2011, R, 111 mins.
Jerry: Woody Allen /
John: Alec Baldwin /
Leopoldo: Roberto Benigni /
Anna: Penelope Cruz /
Phyllis: Judy Davis /
Jack: Jesse Eisenberg /
Sally: Greta Gerwig /
Monica: Ellen Page
Woody Allen’s TO ROME WITH LOVE – his 42nd as a director – is, for lack of a better word, a mess.
all the more messy and unsatisfying seeing as it comes in
the wake of his critically adored box office champ MIDNIGHT
IN PARIS, which I thought was his finest effort in well over a
decade (a period for the filmmaker of borderline middling to adequate
fare). Like his last few
films – which dabbled in Barcelona, London, and Paris – TO ROME WITH
LOVE is an appreciative postcard to its location, and as a
travelogue picture of exquisite and beautiful sights, the film is modestly
enjoyable. It’s just that the film framed around scenic Rome – which
separate stories and that are intercut, but not explicitly connected with one
another – that seems haphazardly constructed with minimal focus and
Italian romcom may superficially look new for Allen devotees, but
underneath its good-looking foreign locale lurks a screenplay that’s
meandering, aimless, desperate for a connective framework, and force feeds
would-be uproarious scenes.
As with all of his previous films, Allen has once again proven
himself to be one of the best managers of acquiring acting talent in the
movies; performers from all walks of life seem intimately drawn to work
with him, even if the script itself is a decided hit and miss affair.
I’m sure that the allure of being in a Woody Allen film was
arguably more powerful and inviting than what was written on the page
four vignettes seem to work fine on their own, but as to what they
contribute to a larger ideology of the film, Allen seems to be puzzled
himself. The first thread is
compelling, if not a bit confusing. It
hones in on a classic Allen archetype – neurotic, confused, unsure of
himself, etc. – in this case a
young architect, Jack (Jesse Eisenberg, whose delivery is perfect for an
Allen film) that has come to Rome to live with his girlfriend, Sally
(Greta Gerwig, criminally misused), but temptation lurks into his life
when one of her friends visits, Monica (Ellen Page).
Predictably, the sassy, outspoken, and sexually liberated Monica
appeals to Jack, which she instinctively senses, so she moves in to seduce
him. However, John (Alec
Baldwin) shows up, so to speak, who seems to know every play that Monica
is attempting and tries to warn Jack.
Oddly, John appears and disappears at will, and Allen never really
develops the “fantasy” aspect of this character very well. I never really clued in as to whether he’s a ghost or an
actual person with magical abilities or a future version of Jack that has
come back to warn him.
second thread involves a newlywed couple, Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and
Milly (the fetchingly gorgeous Alessandra Mastronardi) that come to Rome
so that Antonio can work with his uncles.
Unfortunately, the pair gets separated and Milly becomes hopelessly
lost in a largely unfamiliar city. The
two are tempted by seduction: Milly hooks up one of her favorite actors
that’s shooting a film in Rome, whereas Antonio finds a connection with
a local whore named Anna (the feisty Penelope Cruz) that – for reasons
too complicated to explain – Antonio passes off as his wife when his
relatives come knocking. Allen sets up this segment with the lame contrivances of a lackluster
third storyline involves the director moving back from behind the camera
and participating in front of it (for the first time in six years). Allen
plays a version of the classic Allen-ian comic type that we've seen way,
way too often for it to appear fresh and funny anymore: he’s Jerry, a
retired opera director that wants to settle down with his wife (Judy
Davis, who handles the film’s best verbal zingers with a deadpan aplomb)
in Rome to meet her daughter’s (Allison Pill) boyfriend and future
son-in-law. Fate steps in
when Jerry meets the lad’s father, Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), who has
a remarkable tenor voice…but only in the shower.
Hmmm…I wonder if Jerry will come out of retirement, manage
Giancarlo, and make him a star?
final of the four threads is arguably the most interesting and could have
had a whole film devoted to it: Roberto Benigni plays Leopoldo, an
ordinary man that, for reasons never explained, explored, or thoroughly
developed – immediately becomes a celebrity and is under the constant
scrutiny and focus of the paparazzi, tabloids, and news networks.
Nothing is too insignificant for the crazed reporters to cover
(like what Leopoldo ate for breakfast and how many strokes he takes
shaving). Of course, all of
this newfound and unwanted fame makes Leopoldo go predictably bonkers.
ROME WITH LOVE has its inherent charms: I liked Benigni as a humdrum man
who unwittingly finds himself going from average schmuck to reality TV
sensation. Eisenberg has a
nervous, fidgety energy that makes him a very good Allen stand-in (despite
the fact that Allen, yes, is also in the picture).
Penelope Cruz reliably oozes raw sex appeal as a prostitute placed
in a peculiar situation (she shows how great actresses can take banal and
artificial material and somehow make it work).
Allen’s film looks unendingly pleasant for the eyes: he wisely
recruited his MIDNIGHT IN PARIS cinematographer, Darius Khondji, to make
Rome a city of vivid color, attractive architectural wonders, and a place
that seems to invite whimsy, romanticism, and a bit of magic.
TO ROME WITH LOVE never emerges as anything better than a pretty looking
phoned-in cinematic postcard. Allen
seems to be straining at making all the vignettes tie together in some
meaningful manner and, at the same time, struggles with defining the
particulars of some of them. Baldwin,
as delightful as he is here, plays a “magical” character that’s less
magical than he is a lazy plot device.
speaking of plot devices, the notion of a man with an incredible
singing voice that only can perform in public while in a shower seems
heavily borrowed from a classic Flintstone episode (if you’ve seen the
episode in question you’ll know exactly what I mean). Ellen
Page in her segment is hopelessly miscast as an alluring temptress that has
man fawning over her. She is
an attractive and wonderful young actress, but she’s never credible here
as a person that would lure Jack so easily away from his wife.
The storyline involving Benigni’s character hits all the predictable thematic beats with a lumbering obviousness, and the other involving the newlyweds trying to stave off committing adulterous affairs never generates any serious anxiety-plagued comic momentum. With the exception of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, Allen just seems to be running out of fruitful creative gas. TO ROME WITH LOVE is familiar, deficient in focus and guffaws, and overall just feels like an exhausted and mediocre effort for the aging director. Reportedly, the whole idea of the film came from financiers from Rome, who gave Allen a single source of capital to make the film there. Allen stated publicly that he made TO ROME WITH LOVE in order to work in the beautiful city and for “the opportunity to get the money and work quickly…” The final product here reflects his comments. Much like a vacation destination, TO ROME WITH LOVE is a nice film to visit, but I don’t feel compelled to ever live through it again.