- Vancouver, British Columbia - After the success of last year's Midnight in Paris, it appeared that Woody Allen was back in the game as a writer and director. Generally speaking though, Allen has always been able to make the films he wanted and as often as he desired, but his vision hasn't always aligned with an understanding embrace from the critics. Personally, I've grown to really enjoy his style of film, which is often dialogue heavy and character driven, more so than situation or action driven. He has an amusing sense of humour that is invested into each of his films, which is light and far from overwhelming. Yet with his characters, though I enjoy them, they never seem to resemble true life very closely, but look more like archetypes that we are all familiar with in film. To Rome with Love looks and feels to be a hallmark Woody Allen picture with all of this to be found within.
To Rome with Love is Allen's latest film, which could be described as an ode to the Eternal City. This isn't an ensemble piece in the vein of most ensemble films, which tend to have interweaving storylines that result in a collision of the characters' lives in the conclusion. Rather To Rome with Love is comprised of four storylines, which are unrelated and never really cross paths, so one might almost say that it is a series of short films intercut with each other, but it is done in such a way that we almost forget this. One is an amusing storyline involving a young architect-in-training, Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), who meets a famous American architect, John (Alec Baldwin), who is re-tracing his earlier years in the City of the Romans. This develops an amusing relationship between the two, which provides a lot of laughs. There is also a story about Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), a rather ordinary man, who suddenly becomes famous for no particular reason and tries to shed this new following of his in the Eternal City. There is also Hayley (Alison Pill) and Michelango (Flavio Parenti), who happen to meet each other in Rome and fall in love, leading to them wanting to spend the rest of their lives together, which brings Hayley's parents, Jerry (Woody Allen) and Phyllis (Judy Davis) to Rome to meet Michelango's family, where Jerry, a former Opera producer discovers Michelango's father, Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) to be a fantastic Opera singer in the shower. The last story involves Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi), a newly-wed couple from rural Italy, seeking to move to Rome, where Antonio has several important meetings with family members who will usher him into the elite of Roman society if all goes well, but all goes wrong when Milly decides she must have a hair appointment before meeting them for fear that she will look too much like a "rural school teacher," which she is. Milly gets lost in Rome, while Antonio is mistakenly sent a prostitute, Anna (Penelope Cruz), who must fill the role of Milly while she is mysteriously gone.
There is a lot of humour in To Rome with Love, which makes it an entertaining film overall. Some characters are stronger than others, just like some of the story lines are more convincing than the others. At times, the storyline involve Jerry and Phyllis feels a little forced and overwritten, but in the end, its conclusion is very entertaining and ridiculous. One gets the sense that throughout this film, we're not meant to take it entirely seriously. There were some casting misfires in this film, particularly that of the fictional Italian actor, Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese), who woes Milly when she wanders onto a film set. He is not convincing for what we're meant to believe about him, nor is he as attractive as is suggested. His charisma is dull and unmoving. Personally, this storyline was among the dullest. It is sad because it begins with among the most promise and is easily one of the most situationally amusing comedic parts of the film. Transitioning to another story line, the banter between Jack and John is great, seeming to be quite revealing of the illusion of infatuation and how it desperately tries to lead us astray and into believing what we want it to be.
Among the best writing in the film though is pertaining to poor Leopoldo's rise into his uncertain fame. Roberto Benigni has always been among my favourite comedic actors, and while he may often plays very similar characters, he always finds a way to still make it very entertaining and funny in whatever situation his characters are presented. He is one of the few comedians today, who could accurately be described as a physically comedic actor in that he uses almost all of his body to express his characters, and while some might stereotypically say that this is simply more to do with him being Italian, I disagree. It isn't common in Italian cinema, which only further reveals how great of a talent he is. What we learn from Leopoldo's experience would seem to be a great comment on the absurdity of how we elevate various people into positions of fame and how bizarre it is that we care about the lives of individuals that we've never met, nor will likely ever meet. We concern ourselves with the lives of people who really have little to no natural influence or effect on our lives besides that which we foolishly give them by making ourselves concerned about their opinions.
An element that I wasn't particularly keen about with this film is that there is almost no necessity that this film was made in Rome. Almost any city could've been interchanged with these storylines, which makes it feel like it wasn't so much about a love story with the city of Rome. Woody Allen was apparently approached by a group of Roman producers who agreed to finance a Woody Allen picture providing that he filmed it exclusively in Rome, which Allen happily agreed to do since he loves the city and loves even more when he has secure and certain financing for his pictures. I get it, it allowed him to tell several short stories in one film, but in Midnight in Paris, it couldn't have been told in any other city in large part due to the artistic heritage of Paris, which brought out a variety of historical characters from the past that Allen could draw from. In To Rome with Love, Rome is not nearly as important to the story itself, but seems to serve more as a recognizable background that doesn't really provide us much of any context to the story. Having vacationed in Rome for a week, it was lovely to see many of the familiar sights, but they didn't add anything to this film, nor were they incorporated in a way that was necessary.
To Rome with Love is an entertaining picture, filmed in the Eternal City, but it is definitely on the lighter side of Woody Allen films. His trademarks are present in his heavy dialogue scenes, light humour, and character archetypes, but he doesn't accomplish the same mastery that he did in Midnight in Paris. This isn't such a bad thing though, as the bar he re-established with Midnight in Paris was quite high, and To Rome with Love is far more entertaining and impressive than many of the feature film romantic comedies or dramas being released by Hollywood. Still, it is a little disappointing knowing what Allen is truly capable of and then being given this.
Rating: 3/5 Sour Grapes