by Zach Frimmel, published on August 21, 2012|
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself. Charlie Chaplin
How much Hollywood could a Woody Allen chuck if a Woody Allen could chuck Hollywood? Apparently a lot. Were talking writing and directingand frequently acting inone movie a year for roughly 40 years. Hes the epitome of modern productivity at its finest, albeit, the caliber of his movies is inevitably compromised because, lets face it, no one can crank out infinite amounts of Bananas or Annie Hall genius at such a quantitative rate. Shall we not forget Vonnegut wrote Slapstick and Dylan okayed Christmas in the Heart.
Woody Allens propulsion into popularity did not originate within the film sector, rather, in his high school days, he used to send in gag lines to a newspaper columnist, which mushroomed into more official wisecrack writing and ultimately snowballed into writing for tycoon programs like The Ed Sullivan Show and Candid Camera. Having been born to parents of unskilled labor, Allen consequently made more than his parents while still living at home. In time, he then manifested into one of the most commoditized stand-up comics in the business.
It wasnt until later on in Woody Allens career when he introduced his quirky antics to the world of cinemaand his cultish followingin the movie Take the Money and Run. It was from there that his neurotic plaster and original mold of filmmaking started to take shape and solidify him as a household name for an esoteric entourage. Annie Hall eventually surfaced and drew cinephiles of all kinds out of the woodwork. To some, Stardust Memoriesthe follow up to Annie Hall, which ironically Woody says was his favorite to makeseemed to make disbelievers out of believers and allowed Allens complete apathy to the critics lethal lashings illuminate his untainted will power to create art for his own ad hoc pleasure.
Depending on who you ask, its amazing how most Woody Allen movies dont bring about ennui since so many of them repeatedly depend on love, psychological paranoia, immortality, and philosophy ad nauseam. Though, maybe its a testament to how universal these motifs are engrained into human psyche and how easily intriguing they are due to their fundamental DNA. If thats the case, its no wonder why Woody Allen has proved to be such a proficient ideologue in the film industry. I think his success stems from his propinquity with reality and his ability to tap into a cognitive channel that most people either dont like or know how to be consumed by its allure. To the best of my knowledge, Woody Allen has never had a beard in real life, which can be psychoanalyzed to mean hes not trying to mask any kind of insecurities, and that is why I think his liberated on-screen lifestyle is so pungent.
So four score and seven years later brings us to 2012, yet another year that allows Woody Allen to evince the polyrhythmic pitfalls of love, his obsessions with psychoanalysis, and the beautiful agony of existence in his new movie To Rome With Love. For those keeping track, its Woodys first time acting in a movie for six yearsScoop being his last, plus Roberto Benigni dusts off his acting shoes for only the second time since Life is Beautiful.
The film chronicles the lives of four separate relationships: Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and Monica (Ellen Page), Jerry (Woody Allen) and an opera singer (Fabio Armiliato), an innocent media-lionized commoner (Roberto Benigni), and a married couple that sequentially get roped into amorous activities with other lovers (one being Penelope Cruz). Each story has its side of tug-of-war to wrestle. The thematic threads of chasing fantasies, living vicariously, temptations of lust, the superego (played by Alec Baldwin), the thrill of role playing and pretending, and the love-hate dichotomy of fame are all Rumpelstiltskin-ly spun together to give the viewer a nice, golden rope to thoughtfully tug.
Of course, theres always tension tied to the fiber of Allens narrative ropes, and really any engaging story. In this case, To Rome With Love regurgitates a few classic you-want-what-you-cant-have storylines via the coexistence of comedy versus tragedy. One of the aforementioned relationships follows Jerry, a retired experimental music producer who flies out to Rome to meet his daughters newfound love interest and in the process discovers a newfound music project to rescue him from the atrophy of retirement, however there are hurdles along the way that are smoothed out in an quintessential Woody Allen fashion.
Similarly, Jesse Eisenbergs character, Jack, struggles with the seductive tracker beam of Monica (Ellen Page), his girlfriends fickle and intellect-feigning friend who visits while she recollects her wilted, yet aspiring acting career. This love-lust-logic dynamic is where John (Alec Baldwin) enters the scene to manifest as Jack and Monicasbut mostly Jackssubconscious guru to point him in the wise direction, which is reminiscent of the in-the-flesh apparition role of Humphrey Bogart in Play It Again, Sam who attempts to guide Allen Felix (Woody Allen) in his drive for fantastical Hollywood romance. All four subplots seemed to get equal attention, but this one carried most of the weight.
As far as acting goes in To Rome With Love, Woody Allen obviously typecasted himself as the idiosyncratic intellectual, but in the beginning of the movie was kind of Tin Man-esque and could have used some oil on the old joints. Overall, the acting works, the characters are stocky, the plot gets to be about a rue-for-soup thick, the humor-o-meter jumps around moderately, and youll probably leave the theater lusting for wine and an amorous time in Rome. The movie may not warm the cockles of your heart, but itll remind you that you have them.
So, how much Hollywood could a Woody Allen chuck if a Woody Allen could chuck Hollywood? As much as Love and Death is willing to give him.
Endnote: For a scholarly approach to Woody Allens films you should check out the Cambridge Film Classics book The Films of Woody Allen.