MovieJay Enjoys The Nice Light Ride That Is ‘To Rome With Love’
Woody Allen brought us to Spain with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, then to France with the magical Midnight in Paris, and now he concludes his euro trilogy in Italy with To Rome With Love, a trifle of a movie filled with fantasy, farce and magic realism best enjoyed by fans of the Woodster and/or the Eternal City.
It may not have the focus of those previous two titles, but when you’ve directed nearly 50 films, aren’t you allowed to make a candy bar from time to time?
The movie is a series of short stories weaved into a picture postcard travelogue of Rome and it sees Allen returning as a character in one of his films for the first time since Scoop (2006). In a neat twist, he plays a conservative Republican–albeit, not a Tea Partier, though the thought of him playing one would be most intriguing. He plays Jerry, an opera director, and Judy Davis makes a welcome return to a Woody film (her fifth) as his wife Phyllis.
They’re in Rome to meet their daughter’s (Alison Pill) fiance Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), with Jerry seeming incapable (on purpose?) of pronouncing the young man’s name. The initial meeting is rocky as Jerry and Michelangelo’s politics are diametrically opposed as the young man favors workers and union rights, which of course must mean, according to Jerry, that the guy is a communist. But then Jerry hears the young man’s father singing in the shower and his fascination with the man (played by real life tenor Fabio Armiliato) begins. He insists on recording him and then putting him onstage in an opera, which the father takes as a sort of shock since he’s a lifelong undertaker. That story is charming and at times quite funny.
In another story thread, we meet Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), a would-be architect living in Rome with his girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig). She is all too pleased to invite her friend Monica (Ellen Page) to come live with them for a time since she believes her boyfriend would never have eyes for another woman. Gerwig is a wonder to behold in the film, a natural fit for a Woody pic, all nerves and self-doubting and at times passive-aggressive. It is never even implied, but you wonder what her real intentions are with having Monica stay with them. Is it some kind of test? Jack finds her kind of homely at first, but then the two quickly take to one another.
Alec Baldwin appears in this storyline as a sort of omniscient presence, forever cautioning Jack about getting recklessly involved in an affair that could ruin his solid relationship with Sally. Who is the Baldwin character? What does he represent? Is it really his story and is Eisenberg simply Baldwin at a younger age? There’s really no way of telling, you just go with it or you don’t, and I liked Baldwin’s presence whenever he turned up. Perhaps he is the personification of Jack’s conscience? The story of this threesome could have made an entire picture as I desperately wanted to see more of all three of them, with or without Baldwin as the fourth wheel.
The third story focuses on Antonio and Milly (Alessandro Tiberian and Alessandra Mastronardi), newlyweds in Rome so that his family can meet his new bride. On the morning they are to meet his family, Milly gets lost in the city and encounters her favorite movie star (Antonio Albanese) while Antonio gets paid an accidental visit at their hotel room by an escort played with relish by Penelope Cruz. With Milly apparently lost and his family finding the hooker and Antonio in a compromising position, he tries to pass her off to them as his real bride. It’s a charming story, light as a feather.
Roberto Benigni stars in the fourth episode as a common man who wakes up one day and finds that he is hounded by the paparazzi. Like the Kardashians, he finds himself famous for being famous. The joke wears thin and there’s no payoff to any of it, though I did enjoy Benigni best when he’s trying to shave and a reporter appears behind him, asking mundane questions of him.
Perhaps had Woody Allen focused on one story, To Rome With Love would be more of a bone-sticking meal than the confection it ends up being. It is not major Woody, but simply minor Woody, with some nice performances, some humor that is amusing, and of course, that wonderful cinematography on location in Rome that you can just drink in. If you’re a fan of Woody Allen, you’ll find this one to be a comforting time-waster.
*** (out of 4)