Say what you will about Woody Allen—his personal life issues, his directing career of recent—you have to admire his work ethic. The man is 76 years old and he’s still cranking out a movie a year simply because he loves writing and directing. Sure you could say, why doesn’t he slow it down? Why doesn’t he make a movie every other year, since he’s also writing it? But Allen has always been about quantity over quality, and I don’t really see any problem with that.
Over his vast career Allen has made 48 films. Most of them are forgettable, a few are straight bad, and then there are a few that are great. A couple examples of these are “Annie Hall,” “Hannah and her Sisters” and last year’s “Midnight in Paris.” He wants to keep himself busy and if that means most of the movies are forgettable then so be it, because a great one (like “Midnight in Paris”) may come a long once in a while.
Is his latest film “To Rome With Love” as great as “Midnight in Paris?” Of course not. That’s like capturing lightning in a bottle twice in a row. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s mostly forgettable yes, but at the same time pleasant and mildly entertaining. It continues his recent tour of Europe, whisking us away to the city of Rome, so there’s a plus right there.
The cinematography by Darius Khondji is lush and romantic. Allen shows us all of the major sites (The Coliseum, etc.) as well as the wonderful little cafés and bistros, the old winding cobblestone roads. Like in “Midnight in Paris,” Allen practically makes the city into a main character. The movie on a whole is like eating a slightly better than average pastry. It’s edible throughout, once in a while there are a few great little tastes and then you finish and move on with your day without looking back.
There is a lot going on. The structure of “To Rome with Love” consists of four vignettes—two are in English, two are in Italian—and vignettes are always difficult to do, especially when they don’t intersect with one another. They all share about the same weight in substance, which is admittedly light and they all sort of depend on one another for a complete movie, even if some stories are weaker than others.
One is about an American architect named John (Alec Baldwin) who runs into a younger architect Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) who’s almost like a younger version of himself, going through a dilemma--involving a pseudo intellectual girl named Monica (Ellen Paige)—similar to a dilemma John faced when he was that age and lived in Rome. Then there is one that’s a little more farcical involving Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), a typical middle class Italian who one day becomes famous for no apparent reason. There’s an amusing scene where paparazzi report on his weekly shave.
Meanwhile there is the young married couple Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) who get separated in the city and are both romantically tempted by other people, for Antonio a prostitute played by a sexy Penelope Cruz and for Milly a famous Italian movie star. And finally, in a more classic romantic comedy scenario, we have Jerry (Woody Allen), a retired Opera director coming to Rome with his wife to meet his daughter Hayley’s (Allison Pill) Italian fiancée, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). However Jerry discovers that Michelangelo’s father has an incredible opera voice, which leads him to promote Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) and get his career going again. This is the first time Allen has acted in a movie since 2006’s “Scoop” and even though he gives his typical Neurotic Woody performance, seeing his presence, complaining about airplanes or Communists brought a smile to my face and brought back old memories of him in “Annie Hall” or “Hannah.”
The vignettes don’t always cohere with each other very smoothly and there are certain scenes within each that go on longer than they should and all four of the episodes aren’t resolved particularly well. But on the other hand, there are great little unique pieces to be found within each one. A notable example: The only way Giancarlo can sing beautifully is when he’s in the shower, so when he performs in front an audience a shower stall is brought on stage and he sings an entire Opera while in it. In addition, the screenplay by Allen contains plenty of his usual witty and sincere dialogue that’s continually been one of his greatest strengths as a filmmaker. And all of the acting is passable, nothing outstanding but no one is flat out terrible.
Other than that there’s not a whole lot else to talk about. “To Rome With Love” is by no means great and I’m sure it will evaporate in no time but I still found it to be a pleasurable experience. It’s easy going and takes advantage of a gorgeous location. And even if you don’t like it it’s not worth getting hung up about considering Woody Allen is already in preproduction for his next movie.
Maybe he’ll strike gold next time around.