One thing I realized watching Woody Allen’s latest European venture To Rome With Love is that, if you’re not familiar with the “Allen genre”, you will probably leave the cinema feeling frustrated and mourn that hour and 52 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back.
Fans will be used to his satirical sketches and use of farcical elements in films. Connoisseurs will understand and even embrace that typical surreal trait of a storyline signed Woody Allen. The movie’s silliness will be considered endearing by aficionados; the plot witty and smart.
I myself am not a Woody Allen expert, but have seen enough to understand those emblematic features of his and find them charming. However, I won’t be so understanding as to say they could justify the end result of Allen’s Roman tale, which was, overall, a disappointment.
…there are a million stories to tell in Italy’s capital…
The film opens with a carabiniere (Italian policeman) telling the viewer that there are a million stories to tell in Italy’s capital. To Rome With Love is made up of a completely disconnected medley of four of those stories, told in entirely different time frames but all taking place in the Eternal City – their one and only point in common.
The first storyline, starring Allen himself, is about a retired avant-garde opera director, Jerry, whose daughter (Alison Pill) is getting married to a charming Left-wing lawyer (Flavio Parenti) whom she met when visiting Rome. Jerry and his sarcastic psychologist wife (Judy Davis) fly there to meet their new son-in-law, whose father is an undertaker and, Jerry soon discovers, an exceptional tenor – who can only sing in the shower.
…chased by paparazzi for no reason…
The second strand of the plot is a satirical portrayal of today’s celebrity culture, with Roberto Benigni as Leopoldo Pisanello, a regular middle-class citizen who finds himself chased by paparazzi for no reason. Originally a dull family man, he suddenly becomes the subject of national adulation, a phenomenon he fails to understand. Gradually, he starts to feel more comfortable in his fame, yet still can’t help but long for privacy.
Recent newlyweds from Pordenone Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) are a naïve couple coming to the capital to meet Antonio’s conservative family. This third story sees a succession of farcical incidents take place, where Milly gets lost looking for a hairdresser and Antonio ends up having to pass off Anna (Penélope Cruz), a call girl he met by mistake, as his wife.
…filled with clichés and the storytelling capacity of a touristic “hop-on, hop-off” bus…
Last but not least, we see a successful American architect, John (Alec Baldwin), reminisce about his youth in Rome’s neighbourhood of Trastevere, where he once lived. There he meets a young nerdy architect, Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), who can be interpreted as John’s younger self. As Jack agonizes over choosing between his long-term girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) and her sexually irresistible best friend (Ellen Page), John acts as his alter-ego ghost, commenting ironically on the love triangle. The director never clarifies who John really is, which confuses matters instead of making the story look like a witty skit.
Shot in a caramelized light, To Rome With Love is basically just another one of Woody Allen’s postcard movies (only cornier), filled with clichés and the storytelling capacity of a touristic “hop-on, hop-off” bus.
…a careless patchwork of Italian culture…
Even the acting in the film, decent as it is, is not able to make Allen’s latest European tour stop come off as more than a careless patchwork of Italian culture. Loyal Woody Allen fans will forgive his nowadays scarce inspiration and fading humour, but even they will have to admit that this one’s hardly worth more than a cheap souvenir from Rome.