by David Denby, published on June 27, 2012
Woody Allens new movie, To Rome with Love, is light and fast, with some of the sharpest dialogue and acting that hes put on the screen in years. The picture gently but surely moves back and forth between romantic comedy and satirical farce. There are thirteen major characters and several minor ones. Allen, now seventy-six, revisits some of his old ideas and devices, but he keeps moving ahead. He appears in the film, as a grouchily retired opera director, and Judy Davis, who plays his psychiatrist wife, says to him, You equate retirement with death. The film is an old mans rejection of mortality. In recent years, Allen has become a passionate pilgrim. Mentions Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris. To Rome with Love is set in the present. A genial traffic cop, standing in the Piazza Venezia, introduces the characters and their stories: the opera director and his wife; a newlywed couple from the provinces (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi) just arriving in Rome; a well-known American architect (Alec Baldwin) on vacation; an ordinary middle-class Roman (Roberto Benigni) living with his family. New characters are added, and we puzzle over the possible connections among the narratives, but, at the plot level, there arent any. The tales dont even take place in the same time frame. Yet the moods and the elements of the visual scheme are matched so elegantly that the transitions feel effortless. The young couple gets separated. The man falls into the expert hands of a call girl (Penelope Cruz). His wife meets a movie star. Baldwins architect meets an early version of himselfan architecture student (Jesse Eisenberg), who takes him home to meet his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig). They are joined by an unemployed American actress (Ellen Page), who rapidly pulls the man away from his girl. Page gives a restrained but brilliantly satirical performance as an intellectual and emotional faker. Shes one of the greatest of Allens female creations. To Rome with Love is devoted to dreamers and seekers. The only crime imaginable in this movie is the unwillingness to take a chance.