by Peter Howell, Movie Critic, published on July 5, 2012|
Woody Allens two best ideas of the past decade have been to take his movies to Europe and to keep himself mostly out of them.
The strategy requires a little magic and lot of modesty. When Allen is inspired and invisible, hes Match Point and Midnight in Paris; when hes not, hes Scoop and now To Rome with Love.
Allens frequent flyer points havent been exhausted yet, but his travelling muse evidently has. His first Italian sojourn (and seventh Euro movie) is rife with metaphorical shaggy dogs and flogged dead horses, seemingly born of a desire to empty a notebook.
The film is a series of short stories, themed around a touristy appreciation of the Eternal City. Allens original title, The Bop Decameron, would have been both appropriate and more intriguing than the cornball To Rome with Love.
The best thing that can said about the picture is that its a pleasant time-waster that also doubles as a travelogue for anyone interested in visiting Italy.
Allen isnt the only one coasting. His director of photography, Darius Khondji, made Paris seem both enchanted and spooky for Midnight in Paris; for Rome, Khondji is content to switch into Viewmaster mode for the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and other point-and-shoot locales.
But Allen doesnt give Khondji any reason to sweat, and for the rest of us, not much reason to smile.
Allens jokes this time arent just telegraphed, theyre delivered by flaming arrow such as when Penelope Cruz leaves the door ajar to a hotel room you just know the wrong people are going to stumble into.
If a gag doesnt work the first time, Allen keeps at it, hoping youll finally knuckle under. Do you pronounce Michelangelo as Michael-angelo or Mikkle-angelo? Rinse and repeat.
Allen plays a retired music promoter, who travels to Rome with his psychologist wife (Judy Davis, criminally underused) to join their daughter (Alison Pill) and meet their future in-laws. The daughter met her fiancé (Flavio Parente) after getting lost in Rome, a habit for people in this film.
When Allen isnt casually insulting his serioso future son-in-law, hes overpraising the lads father, played by Italian tenor Fabio Armiliato. The dad is a mortician who sings like, well, an Italian tenor but only when hes in the shower.
Meanwhile, two other sets of lovebirds are attempting to live la dolce vita. A pair of naïve newlyweds (Alessandro Tiberi, Alessandra Mastronardi) get their wires crossed and their desires misinterpreted: the husband ends up with a prostitute (Cruz), who mistakes him for a trick; the wife gets close to a movie star (Antonio Albanese), who thinks shes just a groupie.
Across town, its Threes Company plus a Third Wheel: an American architect (Jesse Eisenberg) is living happily with his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) until he meets her messed-up pal (Ellen Page), an actress with issues and come-hithers. Alec Baldwin tags along as a sardonic scold and nag, who makes no sense as a character and who really isnt all that funny.
Finally, as if hes in an entirely different movie, theres the Roman Everyman played by Roberto Benigni, who one day discovers hes famous for being famous. Hes hounded by paparazzi and other magic-realist Italian caricatures. This presents an opportunity, amply seized, for Allen to play Fellini and comment on how celebrity worship has, you know, gotten out of control. Great idea, if this were 1962. Ditto for Volare on the soundtrack.
There are a few clever bits. Cruz is naturally funny as the hooker, an extension of her naughty mistress character in Rob Marshalls Nine.
A hotel scene begins as a seduction, turns into a robbery and then becomes a seduction again. Its Fellini by way of the Marx Bros.
And that gag about the mortician tenor who can only croon in the shower? Its taken to absurd extremes by Allens music promoter character, but the payoff makes it worth the buildup. I recall seeing a similar yuk on the I Love Lucy show decades ago, but old jokes are the best jokes, right?
The biggest joke of all here might be on Allen. His eclectic choice of music a lighthearted swirl of opera, accordion, Euro-pop and trad jazz inadvertently points to his undernourished screenplay.
One of the songs, Non dimenticar le mie parole, performed by Emilio Livi and Trio Lescano, has a title that translates as Dont Forget My Words.
Thats it! Woody must have forgotten to write a story this time, or any good dialogue. Or maybe he was simply exhausted from all that Oscar campaigning for Midnight in Paris. Either way, it might be time for him to come home to New York.
Rating: 2 out of 4