by Ricardo Baca, The Denver Post, published on July 6, 2012 - 01:00:00 AM MDT|
Woody Allen continues his love affair with Europe's great metropolises via his latest, "To Rome With Love." And like his last film, 2011's successful "Midnight in Paris," this playful, seductive exercise in head-over-heels romance, overnight fame and unexplained time travel is a rewarding, entertaining confection.
"To Rome With Love" is truly a companion piece to "Midnight in Paris" but in a different way than "Paris" and Allen's 1985 film "The Purple Rose of Cairo" were related.
"Rome" and "Paris" should be viewed together discussed together, even and not only because they each present a startling view of the cities that inspired them, street-level shots and unfocused cityscapes that only Allen could capture. Both films present the quandary of living and loving outside of the lines living without any attention to the rules, both perceived and legitimate, and giving in to the loves outside of your existing relationship.
While "Paris" focuses on one man's surreal story, "Rome" belongs to many mostly lovers, naturally.
There's Jerry (Allen) and Phyllis (Judy Davis), an American couple visiting their daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) and her new Italian fiancée Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti).
There's also American ex-pats Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and Sally (Greta Gerwig), who are living and working abroad, happily so, until her friend Monica (Ellen Page) visits and draws his attentions elsewhere a story guided by John (Alec Baldwin), who has been around this Roman block before.
There's also the small-town Italian couple, Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi), who relocate to Roma and instantly fall into an almost-slapstick situation that has him passing off prostitute Anna (Penélope Cruz) as his wife and features her going to bed with famous actor Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese).
And that's not even getting into the overnight (and unexplained) fame of Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), who is potentially the most normal man in Rome or Michelangelo's father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), who hits legendary operatic notes while in the shower and is recruited to star in his own avant-garde production.
This road to "Rome" is indeed meandering and wandering, but it's not confusing so much as it is cementing. This film's many stories provide brief but welcome breaks for one another. Here's a little about Hayley and Michelangelo falling in love. And here's a few minutes on puzzled Leopoldo and his growing profile. The innocent sweetness of Antonio and Milly's new-to-the-city love intersects with Jack's wandering eyes and are we surprised when Antonio and Milly are faced with wandering eyes of their own?
Allen's story moves along quite wonderfully, primarily because of his nuanced casting. Page is devilishly sexy and confident as Monica, and Eisenberg does the whole neurotic thing well as he falls into his ill-fated destiny. Cruz plays the popular prostitute with subtlety, and her interactions with Tiberi especially as they reveal a secret that embarrasses him are among the film's most honest.
Allen acts his age here, as an older, retired husband and father. But he still gets on everybody's nerves and fittingly so as his wife wants him to find contentedness in retirement, as his future son-in-law bristles at his self-centered neurosis and as his daughter's in-laws-to-be push away his promises of opera fame and fortune.
The role and the movie itself asks the question: Where to next, Woody? Early reports swirled around Munich, which could make for some striking scenes in the historical German city. He already did Barcelona ("Vicki Cristina Barcelona"), but what about Vienna or Amsterdam?
Here's to hoping he sticks with his travels before his inevitable return to Manhattan.
**** STAR REVIEW (out of 4)