And takes lots of famous actors with him in this scattered comedy.|
by Kristian Lin, published on July 11, 2012
Set in the Eternal City, Woody Allens latest comedy, To Rome With Love, is a ragged but not unenjoyable piece that feels like something the filmmaker tossed off on his vacation. Given how prolific Woody Allen is, its miraculous that more of his movies dont feel this way. The films four plotlines are connected only by the city in which they take place, which presents some challenges for me as a reviewer. Lets take each storyline by itself.
One begins with an American architecture student named Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) meeting John (Alec Baldwin), a famous architect who happens to have lived in Jacks current apartment as a younger man. John sticks close to Jack in the coming weeks, commenting caustically as the latter falls for struggling Hollywood actress Monica (Ellen Page), who is friends with Jacks girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) as well as a poseur and compulsive liar. As John constantly tells Jack what a mistake hes making, were invited to interpret John as the students nagging conscience or perhaps an older and marginally wiser version of Jack. How else to explain why John is mysteriously always present on Jack and Monicas dates or why hes hardly ever called out for his insulting remarks? More clarity from the filmmaker on this point would have helped, but this part of the movie gets by on Baldwins intelligent smarm and especially on Page, whos stuck in one of Allens sexy-neurotic woman roles but brings great energy and locates Monicas enthusiasm and scatteredness.
This plotline feels like the odd one out, though. If theres a theme unifying the others, its fame. The weakest story involves Antonio and Milly (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi), a honeymooning couple from a small Italian town who become separated when Milly gets lost on the Roman streets. While the worrywart Antonio deals with a prostitute (Penélope Cruz) who shows up at his hotel room thinking that shes been paid to have sex with him, Milly winds up in the suite of a randy middle-aged movie star (Antonio Albanese), intrigued by the idea of sex with somebody so famous. Tiberis unconscious imitation of Woody Allens nervous mannerisms and deliveries is perversely fascinating; many other actors have fallen into the same trap before him, but none of them has done so in Italian. Allens sense of farce here is logy, uninspired, and obvious.
Better is the storyline in which Allen portrays Jerry, a retired opera director who comes to Rome for his daughters wedding to an Italian lawyer (Flavio Parenti). Jerrys misgivings about the union melt away when he chances to hear the grooms father a funeral director named Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) unleashing a world-class tenor voice as he sings in the shower. Despite opposition from almost everyone, including Giancarlo himself, Jerry resolves to bring this incredible unrecognized talent to the operatic realm. This builds up to a comic set piece, which Ill simply describe as a far-out avant-garde staging of I Pagliacci, that was probably funnier on paper than it is on the screen. Even though that falls short, theres still some tasty stuff about Jerrys dissatisfaction with his retirement driving the whole project. Its also a great showcase for the sharply handsome Armiliato, a real-life opera star in his first film role. In addition to giving a terrific performance as a regular guy who wants no part of stardom, Armiliato sings some glorious renditions of Puccini, Leoncavallo, and Umberto Giordano.
A purely surreal plot revolves around Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), a thoroughly uninteresting office worker who nevertheless steps out his front door one morning and is besieged by paparazzi photographers and reporters breathlessly asking him what he ate for breakfast and what he plans to do for the day. Bewildered, he quickly becomes a tabloid celebrity who appears on TV talk shows and hangs out with other famous people, and the joke is that it happens for no reason at all. Allens doing more than commenting on the arbitrary nature of fame; hes charting its effects on Leopoldo, who has mixed feelings upon becoming well-known and then has more of them when the media suddenly desert him to make a celebrity out of another random guy. The last time Allen tried to tackle this subject was his 1998 film Celebrity, which turned out rather badly. This little essay on fame is funnier and less heavy-handed, and it contributes to To Rome With Loves overall feeling of sitting in a piazza and breezily observing the foibles of passersby.