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» Toronto.com - To Rome with Love review: La schmaltzy vita

by Peter Howell, Movie Critic, published on July 5, 2012

Ellen Page and Jesse Eisenberg in Woody Allen's latest European travelogue, To Rome with Love.Woody Allen’s 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, he’s Match Point and Midnight in Paris; when he’s not, he’s Scoop and now To Rome with Love.

Allen’s frequent flyer points haven’t 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. Allen’s 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 it’s a pleasant time-waster that also doubles as a travelogue for anyone interested in visiting Italy.

Allen isn’t 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 doesn’t give Khondji any reason to sweat, and for the rest of us, not much reason to smile.

Allen’s jokes this time aren’t just telegraphed, they’re 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 doesn’t work the first time, Allen keeps at it, hoping you’ll 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 isn’t casually insulting his serioso future son-in-law, he’s overpraising the lad’s father, played by Italian tenor Fabio Armiliato. The dad is a mortician who sings like, well, an Italian tenor — but only when he’s 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 she’s just a groupie.

Across town, it’s Three’s 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 isn’t all that funny.

Finally, as if he’s in an entirely different movie, there’s the Roman Everyman played by Roberto Benigni, who one day discovers he’s “famous for being famous.” He’s 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 Marshall’s Nine.

A hotel scene begins as a seduction, turns into a robbery and then becomes a seduction again. It’s Fellini by way of the Marx Bros.

And that gag about the mortician tenor who can only croon in the shower? It’s taken to absurd extremes by Allen’s 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 “Don’t Forget My Words.”

That’s 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

Source: www.toronto.com

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