by Matt Fagerholm, published on January 31, 2013 - 8:54 AM|
After acknowledging that the rewards of reality are infinitely preferable to the shallow pleasures of a nostalgic dreamworld in his Oscar-winning crowd-pleaser, Midnight in Paris, Woody Allens tirelessly neurotic psyche appears to be more calm and serene than ever before. Perhaps his compulsion to make one picture a year has finally brought him some sort of therapeutic catharsis.
His eagerly anticipated follow-up, To Rome with Love, is an entertaining trifle that functions as little more than an absurdist travelogue, but its also his most relaxed, causally playful offering in many a moon. Considering the unfathomable potential of its powerhouse cast, the scripts hit-or-miss trajectory is a considerable letdown. The film wasnt quite worth the full price of admission in theaters, but as a Friday night rental, cinephiles could do a whole lot worse. As for die-hard Allen fans (such as myself), there is plenty here to savor.
Blu-ray Rating: 3.0/5.0
As a hodgepodge of tall tales set in its titular city, To Rome with Love is a mixed bag of fresh delicacies and reheated leftovers. The best story thread, by far, features Ellen Page as an unlikely seductress who casts her spell on a flummoxed Jesse Eisenberg, an actor whos often been compared to (and confused with) Pages Juno co-star, Michael Cera. Eisenberg seemed destined to work with Allen ever since he channeled the directors signature mannerisms in Noah Baumbachs The Squid and the Whale. Funny that Eisenberg would somehow get paired with Baumbach discovery (and former indie queen) Greta Gerwig in Allens delicious tale of a seemingly happy couple whose world is upheaved by the arrival of a famous friend (played by Page). Aside from a few hilariously pained reaction shots, Eisenbergs role falls disappointingly flat, though Page more than compensates with her exuberantly rapturous turn. As lensed by the great Darius Khondji, Page has never looked more luminous, and has great fun delving into her characters boldly flirtatious antics. What makes this vignette even better is the hovering presence of Alec Baldwin as a wistful gentleman who wryly offers Eisenbergs character words of urgent advice. Is Baldwin an embodiment of the young mans conscience or is the entire Eisenberg/Page/Gerwig love triangle taking place in Baldwins head as he reminisces about old flames? Thankfully, Allen never explicitly answers these tantalizing questions.
To Rome with Love was released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 15th, 2013.
Infidelity is one of the major recurring themes in Allens work, but it has rarely been dealt with as inconsequentially as it is here. Each plot line embraces it with cheerful inevitability, devoid of the emotional stakes that made Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona so compelling. Penélope Cruz makes the most of obvious punchlines in her one-note role as a prostitute mistaken for a bumbling mans fiancé. The surrealist yarn following Roberto Benigni as he randomly achieves meaningless celebrity status is tedious from the get-go and increasingly interminable with each successive appearance. Naturally, Allen gives himself many of the best lines as a kvetching New Yorker (what else?) visiting his daughter (Allison Pill) abroad, while attempting to turn her fiancés father (Fabio Armiliato) into an opera star. Proving utterly incapable of halting his incessant stream of quips and asides, the filmmaker hasnt been this funny onscreen since 2002s Hollywood Ending, in which he played a filmmaker desperately attempting to keep his psychosomatic blindness a secret. Heres hoping the nebbish he plays here, along with his long-suffering wife (Judy Davis, who gave her best performance in Allens 1992 masterpiece, Husbands and Wives), get a spinoff of their own.
To Rome with Love is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio), accompanied by English and French audio tracks and is one of the very rare Woody Allen films to be accompanied by a making-of featurette, though the director himself is conspicuously absent. Producer Letty Aronson is left to ponder how Allen somehow managed to direct the local actors and crew members without being able to speak a word of Italian. As a matter of fact, that sounds like the perfect premise for Allens next picture. Call it Cinecittà Finale.