by Kurt Loder, published on June 22, 2012|
In his late-period Euro films, Woody Allen has been content to employ the most familiar tourist sites for shorthand atmosphere. In the 2005 Match Point he wheeled in Westminster and St. Jamess Park; in last years Midnight in Paris we got the Pont Neuf and the spires of Notre Dame. Now, in To Rome with Love, he naturally highlights the Colosseum and the Spanish Steps; and in a more resonant moment, he shows us a flirting couple at the Fontana di Trevi, where Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg splashed about in Fellinis La Dolce Vita, more than 50 years ago.
Allen is an avid Fellini admirer, and like the masters great film, his latest is an examination of, among other things, the phenomenon of fame and the shallows of celebrity. Its not a profound contemplationAllens touch is light and charmingly comic, and hes too sophisticated to pretend that even the most burdensome fame has no compensating pleasures. Why lie?
The directors script is a roundelay of unconnected stories. In one of these we meet young Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), an American student living in Rome studying architecture. In the street he encounters John (Alec Baldwin), a famous architect on vacation, who spent his own student days in Romein Jacks very neighborhoodlong ago. Jack invites the older man back to the apartment he shares with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig), who informs Jack that her friend Monica (Ellen Page) will soon be arriving to spend some time with them. Sally notes that Monica is sensual and seductive, and the middle-aged John, remembering the ill-advised infatuations of his own youth, immediately warns Jack not to become involved with her.
This proves difficult. Monica, when she arrives, chatters provocatively about a lesbian affair she once had and scatters intellectual buzzwordsRilke, Gaudí, Poundlike worn pennies. John knows shes a poser, but Jack is entranced. Finally giving up, John tells him, Go ahead, walk into the propeller.
Meanwhile, another American student, Hayley (Alison Pill), has gotten engaged to a handsome young Italian lawyer named Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). Her parents, Jerry (Woody) and Phyllis (Judy Davis), are on their way to Rome to meet their daughters fiancé. Upon arrival, they all pay a visit to Michelangelos parents. There, Jerry, a retired opera producer, discovers that Michelangelos father, Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), is a world-class singer. (Armiliato, making his movie debut, is actually a noted operatic tenor.) Unfortunately, Giancarlo only sings in the shower. Jerry, itching to break out of retirement, determines to make Giancarlo an opera star. Since Jerrys own opera productions tended toward the avant-garde (staging Tosca in a phone booth, casting Rigoletto with mice), he feels he can work around this shower problem.
Then theres a newlywed provincial couple, Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardo), who have just checked into a Roman hotel, and are awaiting a visit from Antonios straight-laced relatives. But then Milly goes out and gets lost in the teeming streets, leaving Antonio alone in their hotel room, where hes soon surprised by the arrival of a spectacular call girl named Anna (Penélope Cruz), who has been prepaid to provide her services to a man who unfortunately is not Antonio. Then his relatives arrive to meet Antonios new bridewho unfortunately is not Anna. Although not for long.
Finally, we have a shlumpy office drone named Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), a family man to whom nothing of interest has ever happeneduntil he steps out of his apartment one day and is accosted by a gaggle of tabloid reporters. He protests that they must have mistaken him for someone famous. But then a limo pulls up and he finds himself being driven to a TV studio, where he makes a talk-show appearance that turns him suddenly into a national star. Soon hes being harried for autographs and hit upon by gorgeous women who want to sleep with him. Leopoldo is appalled by this unexpected glitter storm although not entirely.
The movie is an exercise in virtuoso confusion. Despite its structural complexity, it never wanders into incoherence or mindless clamor. It doesnt have the perfect fantasy glow of Midnight in Paris, but it does offer the uncommon pleasures of trimly wrought dialogue, witty situations, and some fine comic actors who seem happy to be serving their directors familiar purposes. Which, depending on your Woodman stance, I suppose, could be enough.