LAFF 2012: Family Matters|
by Michael Nordine, published on Tuesday, June 19, 2012
The North American premiere of Woody Allens To Rome with Love was the big to-do Thursday night in downtown Los Angeles, and not just because it opened the L.A. Film Festival: Allen doesnt often visit the city (not even when nominated for an Oscar), making his personal introduction of this latest work something of a coup for the fest. And while it would be wrong to call a new film by the endlessly prolific director a cinematic event in the same vein as, say, the arrival a new Terence Davies project, so too would it be wrong to think it old hat. As Midnight in Paris Allens most financially successful film ever, not to mention his most well-received in years showed just last year, his creativity is far from sapped. The film itself, Im semi-happily perplexed to report, is actually quite an oddityone whose worthwhile elements never quite congeal, perhaps, but also a pleasant enough jaunt through the Eternal City.
The film tells four different stories which, for the most part, do not intertwine: an older couple come to meet their daughters Italian fiancé for the first time; an ordinary man becomes famous overnight for literally no reason; newlyweds accidentally spend an afternoon apart due to a long chain of mistakes; a potentially insincere seductress tests a young mans faithfulness to his girlfriend. All the while in this last story line, an architect played by Alec Baldwin chimes in on the proceedings in a way that suggests he might only exist in certain of the characters mindsor even vice versa. At times reading as anything from a statement on the randomness (and folly) of celebrity to an increasingly absurd comedy of errors to a meta-narrative that might not even be real, To Rome with Love threads together a pleasantly strange blend of tropes, characters, and narrative arcs, with the ways in which they bounce off and around each other almost always being a sight to behold.
In the case of his lesser output, Allens penchant for ensemble pieces sometimes carries the unfortunate effect of giving an exceptionally talented cast not enough to do or conveying the sense that they havent all come together in a satisfying way; that isnt the case here, even if it occasionally comes close. Here, the sprawling cast (Allen himself, plus Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, and Ellen Page) exist in separate spheres from one another, neither connecting with each other nor helping us connect the respective dots of their strange entanglements. (And, speaking of casting, its almost surprising that Eisenberg has never worked with Allen before: the bumbling, fast-talking persona hes cultivated over the years seems ready-made for the famously neurotic auteur.) Relationships between family members, friends, and lovers are tested and, as tends to be the case with Allen, not all of them pass. The film is something of a misfire in certain regards a number developments come about too slowly, while others strain to justify their inclusion in the first place but the place its coming from is so charmingly bizarre that its hard to feel disappointed. It may not hit all of its targets, but the fact that its aiming at them at all is something to get excited about.