by David Hudson, published on June 15, 2012|
Woody Allens To Rome with Love, starring himself, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page, Antonio Albanese, Fabio Armiliato, Alessandra Mastronardi, Ornella Muti, Flavio Parenti, Alison Pill, Riccardo Scamarcio, and Alessandro Tiberi, opened in Italy back in Aprilso naturally the reviews in that first round are all in Italian. Now that the Los Angeles Film Festival has opened with the North American premiere, the first reviews in English are coming in, and well begin with Emma Bernstein, writing for the Playlist: In the recent PBS American Masters portrait of Woody Allen by director Robert Weide, Allen describes how he has a file folder filled with hundreds of loglines for movies he has come up with over the years; after completing each film, he sorts through them, finds one that speaks to him at the time and writes it up. To that end, To Rome With Love feels like four minor stories that Allen found in a pile and loosely stitched together in a narrative tied to Rome. That said, Rome is beautiful, and a mouthwatering set for any director. Unfortunately, you cant build a movie on a set alone.
Allen inadvertently opens To Rome With Love by establishing a metaphor for its flaws, notes indieWIREs Eric Kohn. A loopy traffic cop, initially the movies narrator, inadvertently causes an accident and then addresses the audience about the swirling mini-narratives about the unfold. Like the cars, the ensuing plot veers wildly from one place to the next, slamming a series of events together without even attempting to make them flow. This might not matter much if individual scenes carried enough of Allens wit to render the lack of fluidity irrelevant, but the material carries the treacly, half-baked feeling of Allen on autopilot.
All things considered, writes Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter, its a relief to learn that Allens next production will be set in New York and San Francisco, as he would seem to have played out his string in Europe for the moment. Although the character he portrays here is a reluctantly retired opera director who discovers a brilliant tenor, Allen the writer-director has gone tone-deaf this time around, somehow not realizing that the nonstop prattling of the less than scintillating characters almost never rings true.
But Varietys Peter Debruge argues that the consistently prolific septuagenarian has been delighting a wider audience than ever with his recent visits to London (Match Point), Barcelona (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Paris (Midnight in Paris, Allens top-grossing pic). The standard complaint goes that Allen is now making movies for the very pseudo-intellectuals his characters have long derided, as if the multihyphenates lifelong preoccupation with death must necessarily become more profound the nearer he gets to the end. Instead, Allen seems increasingly relaxed, as if determined to meet that tall dark stranger with a chuckle, an attitude born out by this relatively casual Roman holiday.
Steven Zeitchik in the Los Angeles Times: At several points in the new film, Daviss Phyllis tells Allens Jerry that he equate[s] retirement with death. As Allen prepares to shoot his eighth movie since turning 70, one gets the sense those words are close to the filmmakers heart.
For the New York Times, Dave Itzkoff talks with Allen about four movies by Italian filmmakers that influenced him most profoundly. They invented a method of telling a story and suddenly for us lesser mortals it becomes all right to tell a story that way, Mr. Allen said. We do our versions of them, never as shockingly innovative or brilliant as when the masters did them. The films: Vittorio De Sicas The Bicycle Thief (1948) and Shoeshine (1946), Michelangelo Antonionis Blow-Up (1966), and Federico Fellinis Amarcord (1973).
As it happens, a two-hour cut of Robert Weides Woody Allen: A Documentary (the original ran over three hours) opened in a few theaters in the UK last week. The Observers Philip French finds Woody in fine, funny, frank, self-disparaging form, there are fascinating revelations on every aspect of his life, well-chosen extracts from his films and TV interviews, and a glimpse of that Olympia typewriter, a German model, on which he has tapped out every word hes written since he bought it as a teenager some 60 years ago. Has any instrument since Shakespeares quill been the conduit of more pleasure to mankind? More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 3/5), Dave Calhoun (Time Out London, 4/5), and Robbie Collin (Telegraph, 3/5).
Updates: Writing for Vanity Fair, Bruce Handy notes that the cast pulls a lot of freight, as does Rome itselfthis is the literally sunniest movie Allen has ever made. But like a number of the directors recent movies, this one often feels like a second- or third-generation Xerox of earlier, better films. Still, it made me happy just to spend 90 minutes in Woody World, that Neverland rooted in mid-century aspiration where people still quote Freud and argue about abstract art and take long, Jamesian trips abroad with seemingly no means of support. When it comes to Allen, Im all in; Im a lifer.
At Movieline, Jen Yamato notes how baldly [Allen] confronts the funny business of art and celebrity in the film, from all sidesthe fleeting pointlessness (and compulsive appeal) of being famous for famous sake in todays reality TV culture, the eternal struggle to balance art and commerce, even the oiliness and pretension pervasive to Hollywood types alike, personified by Italian actor Antonio Albanese and with particular deftness by Ellen Page.
Updates, 6/19: Allen in person is nothing like the nebbishy mess of phobias and insecurities he has been impersonating, on stage and screen, for half a century, dating back to his days doing stand-up in Greenwich Village clubs like The Bitter End. Sam Tanenhaus in the cover story for this weeks international edition of Newsweek: He has the reputation, in fact, for almost terrifying self-assurance and will brusquely dismiss established stars (casualties include Michael Keaton, Sam Shepard, and Christopher Walken) if they fail to meet his exacting standards on the set. But monomania has made him his eras greatest comic presence, the one true heir of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Allen, however, measures himself against stiffer competition. I think Ive now made almost 45 films, he says. Some nice ones. No masterpieces. I dont kid myself. Its not false modesty. If you look at Rashomon, The Bicycle Thief, The Grand Illusion, as masterpieces, [then] no: I dont have a film I could show in a festival with those films.
Allens transformation from the most successful intellectual comedian of his time to a respected film artist occurred during my adolescence, writes Bill Weber in Slant, and hes yet to extinguish my affection for the period when the limited opening of each of his movies was a New York event. But his reputation as someone who created lively comedic and dramatic characters for [Diane] Keaton, Mia Farrow, and even Gena Rowlands is hard to square with the flagging auteur who extravagantly wastes the talents of Cruz, Alison Pill, and Greta Gerwig (in the utterly perfunctory role of Eisenbergs girlfriend) in To Rome with Love . Not only does the late-career renaissance of a Huston or Buñuel seem beyond him, but movies like this one put him in danger of comparisons with Chaplins final, disastrous film, A Countess from Hong Kong, or Bob Hope robotically reading jokes for decades of his dotage. Basta, Woody, basta.
To Mark Olsen, writing for Box Office, To Rome With Love feels unfinisheda problem it partly addresses but cant recover from. For Michael Nordine, writing for Filmmaker, its actually quite an oddityone whose worthwhile elements never quite congeal, perhaps, but also a pleasant enough jaunt through the Eternal City. 2.5 out of 5 stars from Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema.
Its almost cruel to criticize something so essentially lighthearted and disposable, but it must be said that a lot of these jokes feel distinctly recycled, mainly from Broadway Danny Rose, writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. Also, Rothkopf, David Fear, and Keith Uhlich note that on the same day that To Rome with Love opens in NYC, i.e., Friday, Film Forum kicks off a weeklong revival of his 1977 classic Annie Hall; and comedian Janeane Garofalo will present a special screening of 1989′s Crimes and Misdemeanors at Cinema Village on Tuesday 26. In honor of this Woodcentric week, we review three distinct phases of the writer-director-stars career. But wait, theres more. Uhlich on Annie Hall: As the story toggles between punch lines involving Marshall McLuhan and The Sorrow and the Pity and gut punches like Annies heartrending rendition of Seems Like Old Times or some half-recalled joke about eggs, you delight in the seeming effortlessness of a movie born out of turmoil. This is the link between Allens earlier, funnier stuff and more probing works like Interiors and Manhattan. Would that we all could build such masterful bridges.
Reviewing To Rome with Love for the Voice, Chris Packham notes that its a good thing that his favorite themes are kind of ageless, because the man could not be further away, as measured by time and tax brackets, from the lives of actual human beings as they exist in the real world.
Updates, 6/21: The limitations of To Rome With Love, as frothy as the milk atop a cappuccino, are finally inseparable from its delights, writes A.O. Scott in the New York Times. Some of the scenes feel rushed and haphazardly constructed, and the dialogue frequently sounds overwritten and under-rehearsed. But this may just be to say that we are watching late-period Woody Allen.
At times it looked as likely as squeezing blood from a stone, but Woody Allens creative juices can still flowand flow freely, without fussiness or solemnity, as in his wonderfully buoyant, overlapping omnibus comedy To Rome With Love, writes New Yorks David Edelstein. I was blissed out during much of To Rome With Love, but I have to acknowledge its creepy side. Allens actresses are open-faced and nubile and costumed and shot to make them ripe sexual objectshe wants them, boy he wants them, and he cant have them. His men get off the hook, but the denouements are defeatist, curdled. Its not the dark, pessimistic core of Allens comedy I object to. Its the casualness of the hopelessness, the complacency of it, the buildup to a shrug. But Im in awe of the fact that he can hold that view and still have surprises in him.
The storyline involving Alec Baldwin, as an established architect on vacation in the city, is by far the most rewarding in the film, finds Alison Willmore at the AV Club, and it provides substance to what would otherwise be a strenuously whimsical endeavor . The amusing, bittersweet charm of this final storyline is intense enough that it would almost be better off as a stand-alone short; intercut as it is between three other less successful narratives, its forced to do some heavy lifting for the film as a whole. But it succeeds in buoying Allens latest enterprise up into something thats palatable overall, if vaguely inauthentic and unsatisfying, like an allegedly local meal bought at a tourist restaurant.
The New Yorkers Richard Brody: Allen has always been a master of metaphor; hes the author of what is perhaps the most enduring one to arise from the cinema in the last thirty yearsZeligand, throughout his career, he has condensed a remarkable amount of experience in exemplary symbols, whether the synecdochic business in Manhattan with the tape recorder, the meta-games of Purple Rose of Cairo, the Catholic-conversion paraphernalia of Hannah and Her Sisters, the blind director of Hollywood Ending, or the entirety of Sleeper. In To Rome With Love, he comes up with a whole trove of some of the best recent cinematic metaphors, and they all tend in the same direction. The fundamental idea of the movie is the fundamental issue of Allens entire careerthe blurring of boundaries between the private and the public, between the offscreen life and the onscreen personal.
Glenn Kenny, writing for MSN Movies, finds To Rome With Love to be consistently engaging and often very funny, largely avoiding groaners and bringing home its choice bits of life wisdom with a deft touch.
To Rome with Love will never be listed among his greats, but its willingness to surrenderthat is, Allens willingness to surrenderto mere pleasantness makes it charming enough, writes Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline.
Everyone fell all over last years Allen offering, Midnight in Paris, because it had mood, clever performances and such an entrancing plot, writes Mary Pols for Time. While it is unlikely to stand the test of time, it set a higher standard than a lot of Allens late-career offerings, one which To Rome with Love cant live up to.
The LA Weeklys Karina Longworth interviews Woody. Susan King talks with Roberto Benigni for the Los Angeles Times, Salons Andrew OHehir interviews Alec Baldwin and Jay A. Fernandez chats with Alison Pill for indieWIRE.
At Flavorwire, Jason Bailey introduces a video essay (931″), All of Woodys Surrogates.
Updates, 6/22: Ignatiy Vishnevetsky in MUBIs Notebook: Woody Allens new film is relaxed, easy-to-digest, light entertainment﻿﻿middle-brow fluff done right, in other words. Like a Bertrand Blier movie without the ambition or the mean smarts, it trades in narrative left turns, tricky structures, sustained Surrealist gags, caricature characters, and theatrical devices that have been transposed to filmmaking; it doesnt add up to much﻿﻿﻿some good laughs, a handful of basic observations about human behavior, and the same moral about being content with your place in the world that Allens been preaching for the last 40 years﻿﻿﻿but theres no sense faulting a movie for slightness when its slight by design.
Allen seems to be digging through a careers worth of unused (or in some cases, recycled) material and finding new ways to collage it together, with alternately tiresome and pleasing results, finds Slates Dana Stevens.
At Artinfo, Graham Fuller finds the new film [v]aguely reminiscent of such Italian anthology films of the early sixties as Boccaccio 70 and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow The stories are linked by the anxiety and pliability of the men and their vulnerability to the voracious women Allen contrasts with nice Sally [Gerwig] and Leopoli [Benigni] and Giancarlos [Fabio Amiliato] dowdy Madonna-ish wives . As a cartoon of male desiresand he doesnt pretend shes anything elseCruz is funny, but its Page who steals the film with her portrayal of the kind of disingenuous, beautiful flake who gives weak-willed men nightmares for the rest of their lives. The girls may be questionable constructs. But the guys? Theyre wimps.
Theres something highly appropriate about sitting before an all-star dais at the press conference for Woody Allens latest, writes R. Kurt Osenlund at Slant. More than just another valentine to a foreign city, the film is a droll and buoyant commentary on fame, much like Allens Celebrity was 14 years ago.
And Katie Calautti talks with Jesse Eisenberg for Movies.com.