To Rome With Love
Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Roberto Benigni, Ellen Page, Greta Gerwig, et al
Rated R for some sexual references
Running Time of 102 Minutes
Woody Allen continues his cinematic tour around Europe with a stop in Rome, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The Rome Allen depicts in To Rome With Love is the postcard Rome, never quite authentic, never quite tangible, but incredibly historic and exquisite. The scenery in this film never ceases to delight, all cobblestone streets, little cafes, and stunning architecture. Allen employs a series of vignettes in this film – 4, to be exact – that follow various characters in and around the city. He is clearly interested in examining issues of fame and recognition, but despite assembling a wonderful cast, he has little success.
The 4 sections of this film are completely unrelated by anything save for the city in which they take place. In fact, there is not even a concern with time or structure. One story takes place over one day while we intercut to other stories taking place over multiple days. This has a sort of dizzying effect, and gives the film a surreal tone. This is surely Woody’s intention – he is influenced by the great Italian filmmakers of another era, by Fellini and Rosselinni. Woody has always been intoxicated by classic talent, never more clear than in last year’s wonderful Midnight in Paris. His examination of that here, though, stops on the surface. Never mind. He plays fast and loose with reality, as he often does. Magical realism has been employed throughout much of Woody’s oeuvre.
Of the 4 segments, one is heavily influenced by magical realism. Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) is a man torn between two women, Sally (Greta Gerwig) and Monica (Ellen Page). The famous architect John Foy (Alec Baldwin) becomes Jack’s muse and his subconscious. While it is clear that John is a real person, it also seems that only Jack can see him, except when others must see him. It is a bit confusing in the film too. One could imagine a scenario in which Jack grows up to be John. It is a strange trick that never quite pays off, but Baldwin is the film’s hero. His performance is wry and subdued, elegant and soulful. If each male character in the film is a representation of the various facets of Woody Allen’s personality, then perhaps John is the man Woody wishes he could be. Or, at least, the man he looks up to.
The other 3 segments are a complete wash. Each ostensibly exists as an overlong, single punchline joke. Roberto Benigni mugs and cloys his way through a segment that is meant to satirize the nature of fame in our modern society. The satire lacks bite and is incredibly obvious. Woody Allen, once again essentially playing himself, has a handful of hilarious one-liners, but is stuck in a segment that leads to a visual gag that feels cartoonish, silly, and ultimately pointless. Finally, Alessandro Tiberi plays Antonio, a neurotic Italian moving to Rome with his wife for a new job. Both he and his wife Milly (Allesandra Mastronardi) have encounters with strangers, and one can’t help but surmise that the pont of this segment is that all marriage needs a little infidelity. What?
The film is a confused mess, unsure of its tone and obvious in its jokes. Though Allen has employed a group of terrific female actresses (Penelope Cruz, Gerwig, Alison Pill, Judy Davis, Mastronardi, etc.) their characters are flatly written and pale in comparison to the men in this film. They disappear to the background. Only Ellen Page as Monica makes any sort of an impression, and though Page can turn a phrase with the best of them, her character is an obnoxious shrew, and she is miscast as a femme fatale. No matter. Everything in this film seems miscast. The love of Rome and its inhabitants are palpable, but for once Woody is left with nothing to say. I have always looked up to Woody, and even his lesser films have provided me amusement. Not this one. Sadly, that makes this perhaps my least favorite effort from him in a long, storied career. Allen has made a film each year for as long as I can remember, so here’s hoping for next year. Or maybe he should just slow down a little bit.