by Matt Bacon, published on July 13, 2012|
As a follow up to his Oscar nominated film Midnight in Paris, Woody Allens To Rome With Love pales in comparison. Much like the former, it is a love letter to the city it shares its name with. Regrettably, this love letter is not nearly as satisfying. Like many films containing vignettes, including Allens own Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), some pieces are better than others. In this case, one trumps the rest. This is not to say the whole movie isnt very good, but as far as Allens filmography goes, To Rome With Love certainly is not up to par. When Allen focuses on story, he can hit it out of the park. This film never quite hit it out of the park.
To Rome With Love is four stories, all relating to lifes dreams. Each vignette is self-contained: An architect who remembers when he visited Rome as a student, a family man who wants a more exciting life, a young couple from a small Italian town preparing for the husbands new job, and a meeting of soon-to-be in-laws in which musical dreams are realized. The problem with vignettes always comes down to flow, especially if the vignettes switch throughout the entire film. It was extremely hard to switch from scenes I loved to scenes I did not, especially when the best and worst vignettes were of a much different comedic tone. To understand, it would be proper to review each vignette separately.
Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, and Alec Baldwin star in the best vignette. Baldwin plays an architect who visits his old Roman stomping ground and takes a trip into his past when his younger self (Eisenberg) falls in love with his girlfriends acquaintance (Page). This story is by far the most tragic, yet keeps the Woody Allen humor intact. The dialogue and the charisma each actor brings really make it work. In many ways, the vignette could have easily been expanded into feature length. That probably could have fixed small issues like the lack of chemistry Eisenberg had with his girlfriend. On its own, this was an A-grade plotline.
From best I go to worst. Roberto Benigni is a normal family man with a job, a wife, and two young children. Overnight, he gains unexpected celebrity status. There is no way that this was not a blatant commentary on people such as the Kardashians or the Real Housewives of [Insert City Here]. Because of that, this vignette lacks any magic. In fact, all of the humor just repeats itself. Yes, we understand the media has a strange obsession about anything and everything in a celebritys life. Making the same joke ten times does not make the message sink in any further. It was grating. Even the conclusion was unsatisfying, as the meaning is one people understand. This vignette seemed like the only way Allen could get his opinion on celebrity out in the open in a proper medium.
Switching to something just a tad bit more enjoyable, Penelope Cruz plays a prostitute sent to the wrong hotel bedroom. She finds herself caught in a revealing situation with a husband whose wife has gotten lost in the city. Both the husband and wife have their own adventure. Their paths only cross once, but said scene is the funniest of the vignette. Cruz is wonderful, but the two Italian actors who play husband and wife are given little to do than act beyond one quality: neurotic and damsel. The story was not engaging enough to match the humor. It was watchable, but forgettable.
Finally, the second best vignette was the one in which Allen acted. While visiting his daughter (Allison Pill) and her new fiancé, Allen discovers the new father-in-law has a wonderful voice suited for the opera. In all honestly, this is the funniest plotline, but the story is left in the dust. Characters don not act rationally until they are needed to be rational. No one besides the young bride and Allen are very likable. Maybe the father-in-law, but he does not get much to do besides be the focus of Allens singing project. Allen at least gets to be his neurotic self, and that was enjoyable. But still not even close to the quality of the Eisenberg vignette.
All-in-all, To Rome With Love is a completely average film. If you enjoy Allen film, you will not be too disappointed. It is light and forgettable. If you do not like Allens films, you probably will not care enough to seek this film out. You will not be missing much. It is a shame to see some really great stuff mixed with some humor that simply falls flat. I also recommend this film to fans of the Dean Martins Volare. Seriously, it is overplayed!