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Multiple plots distract from 'To Rome With Love'
by Tom Helberg, published on Sunday, July 15, 2012 - 22:07
As the familiar white type on black opening titles begin, you know youre in for a Woody Allen picture.
To Rome With Love blends four different stories into one film with mixed though mostly funny results. Continuing Allens European tour after Vicky Christina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris, Rome is an anthology of sorts set in the titular Eternal City.
In one story, Allen appears in his first screen role since Scoop in 2006. He plays a retired opera producer, married to Phyllis (Judy Davis) and father to Hayley (Alison Pill). In this absurdist segment, Allen discovers that his daughters future father-in-law (Fabio Armiliato) is a tremendously talented opera singer. The man has a hang up about singing for an audience, but Allen uses him for a career comeback with hilarious results.
A second story follows Roberto Benigni as an average Roman citizen who one day finds the paparazzi hounding him for interviews. What he ate for breakfast and whether he wears boxers or briefs become headline news, and Benigni enjoys being famous for being famous in this Fellini-esque tale.
The least interesting of the stories is a Threes Company caliber mistaken identify farce. Penelope Cruz plays a prostitute, who poses as the wife of a young newlywed (Alessandro Tiberi), while the wife is seduced by a famous Italian actor (Antonio Albanese). While Cruz shines with the little material she has, the repetitive musical cues and predictable conclusions render this plotline flat.
Another tale finds Alec Baldwin as an architect wandering his old Roman stomping grounds. He runs into Jesse Eisenberg, an aspiring architect himself, and Baldwin becomes a color-commentator/conscience for this younger version of himself. Eisenberg struggles choosing between staying with his girlfriend, played by Greta Gerwig, and her sexpot best friend, Ellen Page.
Allen doesnt break any ground here, though its his first anthology film since Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask in 1972. None of the segments in Rome are as inspired as anything in that film, and its doubtful anything could ever top Gene Wilders love affair with a sheep. None of the stories in Rome are dependent on one another and all feel as if they were randomly chosen from Allens idea file.
There is still plenty to like about Rome as Allen sneaks in his famously funny one-liners that date back to his days as a stand-up comic. As per usual, much of the dialog feels autobiographical as Allen muses on his own successes and failures and that nagging fear of death. There is a also an abundance of acting talent on screen, even if the actors seemingly have little to do. Page and Eisenberg in particular were born play to roles in a Woody Allen film, and with any luck they continue to work with the prolific director.
To Rome With Love doesnt have much to say, but its a fun, frivolous romp from one of the great American directors.