So, another Woody Allen film. I admit, I’m certainly not an aficionado in regard to his films, and, to be honest, I have more knowledge about the legend that surrounds his personal life than his work. My first foray into the world of Woody Allen was Manhattan, thanks to this blog. Two years later, I’ve seen four of his films, which is more than I can say about my progress through the catalogs of my favorite directors. After watching Midnight in Paris a couple of months ago, I decided to give To Rome With Love a watch, mostly to deal with my Italy withdrawal after returning from four months abroad. Unlike Midnight in Paris, Allen doesn’t get it quite right in The Eternal City.
The film is comprised of four separate vignettes all happening in Rome. While none of the stories are interconnected, they are woven throughout the film. We are first introduced to a young American woman who asks for directions from a Roman man (who is conveniently attractive), and ends up engaged to him by the end of the summer. Her parents, Jerry (Woody Allen) and Phyllis (Judy Davis), meet her fiance’s family and hilarity ensues. Too bad that’s not what actually happens. The story arc is Jerry’s future in-law’s amazing singing ability, which can only be attained in the shower; however, this story-line was simply not entertaining. Although Woody Allen has not lost his penchant for funny, never-ending rants, and Judy Davis plays well opposite him, the pacing of the film was, nonetheless, off at times during his signature conversations. I found myself checking the time on more than one occasion.
The second vignette follows Alec Baldwin as John, a wealthy American architect, as he reminisces on living in Rome as a young student (Jesse Eisenberg). In a rather awkward setup, he watches, comments, and advises his younger self as he deals with his attraction to his girlfriend’s best friend, Monica. Ellen Page, who I would never have picked to play an attractive and very sexual actress, does a surprisingly great job. Even though our memories are notoriously one-sided, Page manages to make Monica and her nerdy sex appeal (though, I don’t think this was they type of sex appeal they were going for), believable, while still capturing her slightly neurotic tendencies. Even though Jesse Eisenberg seemed to be playing himself in this film, he and Ellen Page are the ultimate Oscar-nominated nerd couple and I would love to see them in another film together.
Roberto Benigni is the focus of the third story as Leopoldo, a regular man who suddenly becomes a celebrity and is constantly hounded by the press. The initial scenes were quite funny, as reporters give a live account of his every statement, namely his daily breakfast of toast with jelly. Allen is clearly spoofing our celebrity obsessed culture, particularly entertainment news shows, which I, admittedly, avidly watch. In one memorable line, Leopoldo’s chauffeur responds to his query about why he deserves to be a celebrity by stating the obvious–all celebrities have not done something worthwhile to deserve fame. Shoots fired at the new crop of reality stars? I think yes. Nonetheless, this vignette, like the others, quickly becomes boring, and is not helped by the Aesop’s fable-like ending that doesn’t seem to impart any real wisdom.
Surprisingly, the most engaging characters are the young Italian couple who arrive in Rome for their honeymoon. Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi), his new wife, are meeting with his snobby relatives in hopes of securing a permanent job at the family company. A wrench is thrown into these plans when Milly gets lost on her way to a hair salon and Anna (Penélope Cruz), a prostitute, mistakenly offers her services to Antonio. After being caught half-dressed with Anna by his relatives, Antonio decides to pretend Anna is his wife, while Milly gets into a bit of her own trouble in the city. Allen does a great job of capturing the light-hearted irony that is commedia all’italiana. The acting, from Tiberi as the uptight and always anxious Antonio, to Mastronardi as the seemingly doe-eyed naive school teacher with a wild side, and Cruz (showcasing her Italian chops) as the smart-mouthed headstrong prostitute, is stellar all around.
Similar to Midnight in Paris, I expected a love letter to Rome, complete with stunning photography of the city’s iconic landmarks and ancient ruins. Instead, To Rome With Love presented a hodgepodge of stories that, for the most part, weren’t awfully compelling.