Starring: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni
Directed by: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)
Written by: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)
Even at the age of 76, Woody Allen remains one of the most prolific filmmakers working today. So prolific, in fact, that he has produced at least one movie in which he has written and directed every year since 1982 and a dozens of other movies going back to the mid-60’s. Last year, Allen struck gold with “Midnight in Paris,” a whimsical time travel-centric romantic comedy which brought him, among other things, an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and the biggest box office success of his lengthy career. Still, with so many films being churned out, there are bound to be some that are less successful than others. Using a beautiful European city as a backdrop once again, Allen returns with “To Rome With Love,” a messy romantic comedy that is desperate for a focus.
The film is told through four vignettes of different stories taking place throughout Rome. The most successful of these is the one involving Allen himself, in his first acting role since 2006’s “Scoop.” In a random meeting while visiting Rome, Hayley (Allison Pill) and Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) quickly fall and love in get married. Hayley’s parents Jerry, (Allen) a man retired from the recording business and Phyllis (Judy Davis) fly into meet Michelangelo’s parents including his father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) who has a talent that Jerry wants to utilize. Allen gives himself the best material in the film, as this vignette contains the wittiest and most well written moments of the film. Allen’s return to acting is also welcome, with his neurotic babble and sharp one-liners firing on all cylinders. While the latter half of this story gets a little silly, it manages to maintain its cohesion and form the strongest portion of the movie.
In the next vignette, we see architect student Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) living a comfortable life in Rome. This all changes when Sally’s good friend with a reputation of making men fall in love with her, Monica (Ellen Page) shows up after recently being dumped. As Jack tries to not fall for her, another fellow architect named John (Alec Baldwin) constantly shows up to Jack advice to give him advice. There are some good things to come out of this section of the film. The chemistry between Page and Eisenberg really works, with Page as a standout in particular. One might think that Eisenberg would be the perfect actor for an Allen movie, but his dialogue feels incredibly forced and scripted. There is also something bothersome about the omnipresence of Baldwin. While he is fine on screen, his constant appearances don’t add much and are hard to take seriously.
In another vignette, newlyweds Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) are on their honeymoon in Rome. As they are about to meet Antonio’s very important family, Milly sets out and gets lost in Rome and a prostitute named Anna (Penelope Cruz) mistakenly shows up at Antonio’s door. While Milly is lost, she stumbles across a movie set and gets to spend time with her favorite actor while Antonio must pretend Anna is his wife. Indifference is the best way to react to this portion of the film. Most of the dialogue is subtitled, and the only recognizable actor on screen is Cruz. Unfortunately for this part, cheesy sexual jokes and gags are told at Cruz’s expense and they tend to fall pretty flat.
Finally, the fourth story involves everyday businessman Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) who wakes up one day and is a massive celebrity for no apparent reason. This story is the most unsuccessful of the group. While it is clear what Allen was trying to get across with this story, there is literally no reason that Leopoldo should be famous. It’s a preposterous concept even given Allen’s penchant for whimsy. It provides for some amusing moments at first, but the story very quickly wears out its welcome.
If there’s one thing that “To Rome With Love” is begging for it is a common thread. There are hints of themes of adultery in three of the four vignettes, but other than the shared backdrop of Rome, the audience is truly left with four completely unrelated stories. While Allen does a fine job at balancing time and switching back and forth between the vignettes, only one of them truly stands out which makes for an uneven and unsatisfying overall product.