by Edward Douglas, published on June 18, 2012|
Apparently the huge success of Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" has led to other cities clamoring for director Woody Allen to help transform moviegoers into would-be tourists with travelogues disguised as comedies. This time, the treatment is given to Rome, Italy, and while Allen tries to create something from the same comedic mold as "Midnight in Paris," without having strong enough characters or story ideas for any of them to maintain a full-length feature, he instead makes an anthology film made up of four separate storylines with little in common besides the locale and Allen's inimitable humor.
In this case, the locals get it as bad as the American tourists this time with Roberto Benigni playing an average joe who suddenly finds himself thrust into fame, being hounded by paparazzi and questioned by reporters on every single triviality from whether he wears boxers or briefs to what he had for breakfast. This segment seems to mirror Allen's thoughts on his own fame and that of reality show stars that are put on the cover of tabloids for worthless achievements. The problem is there's nothing in the introduction of Benigni's character to point to him wishing to be a celebrity, so the idea seems to come from out of nowhere.
The best segment by far involves newlyweds Antonio and Milly (Alessandro Tiberi, Alessandra Mastronardi) who have arrived in Rome from a smaller Italian village for their honeymoon before he meets his rich relatives to try and get a job. Instead, they're separated when she gets lost and loses her cell phone and a case of mistaken identity leads to him pretending a prostitute named Anna (Penelope Cruz) is his new wife, while his real wife has a romantic interlude with a famous actor.
Everyone in Woody Allen's world is as neurotic as he is but no one delivers Woody Allen's writing as well as he does, which is why his segment tends to unveil in the most organic way, as he and Judy Davis play Americans coming to Rome to visit their daughter (Allison Pill) and her new Italian boyfriend. While it's terrific seeing Allen back in the saddle appearing in one of his own movies, his segment seems to be little more than an extended joke about people who sing better in the shower--in this case, the father of his daughter's new boyfriend--leading to a funny visual gag that soon grows stale as it never goes beyond that.
The fourth segment is the one only involving Americans and therefore one that probably could have taken place anywhere. Alec Baldwin plays a famous architect who meets a young admirer in Jesse Eisenberg and he's introduced to his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) whose best friend Miranda (Ellen Page) will be spending time with them. Baldwin essentially becomes the Eisenberg's conscience, warning him that having the overtly-sexual Miranda around could go horribly wrong. Even with such a talented foursome, this seems like the weakest of the four stories because it never seems to serve any real purpose.
None of the stories are particularly revelatory and while there's a couple funny lines scattered throughout, much of the humor goes for the most obvious jokes and comedy of error type humor, making for a rather disjointed movie that only works when it's in one of the stronger segments. Throughout all four segments, Allen's camera travels all over the city to capture some of Rome's most notable landmarks and those that aren't shown are constantly namechecked in case there's any question why the Italians funded this movie.
Other than Allen, Baldwin is decent in his role offering advice to the younger actors, but it's really the little-known Italian actors and Cruz, looking incredibly alluring post-pregnancy, who deliver the best performances as Allen channels his inner Fellini and lets the local actors give the film authenticity. Otherwise, there's little signs of the "love" advertised in the title except for the love Allen's camera has for the city.
For the most part, Allen doesn't end any of the four stories in a fulfilling way, which is a shame since there's such potential in at least the segment involving the newlyweds, though it's obvious there's very little place for any of the other stories to go. At least they're not awkwardly tied together by having characters from one story interacting with those from another, which would have been worse, but the sum of all four stories still never adds up to the strength of one of Allen's full-length feature comedies.
The Bottom Line:
Parts of "To Rome With Love" work as simple and light Italian comedy, and while it's better than some of Allen's unwatchable studio comedies of the early '00s, it's clearly lesser Woody Allen and a disappointing follow-up to "Midnight in Paris."
6 out of 10