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Examiner DVD Review: 'To Rome with Love'
by Jeff Beck, published on January 14, 2013
Ah, Rome. What a perfect, beautiful place to use as a backdrop for a film as the Italian masters once did. Anyone whos ever seen a Fellini film knows how much he loved to show off the city in his work by just having the characters walk along its many streets. Fans of Woody Allen may have noticed that he likes to do this as well. How many Allen films have we seen with his characters walking the streets of New York City, or how about his previous film, the outstanding Midnight in Paris, that displayed Paris in all its beauty? With the magical setting in place, all thats left is the hardest part: coming up with a story thats as enchanting as the location.
With To Rome with Love, Allen was feeling rather ambitious, so instead of just one story, he decided to have several taking place at the same time, so Ill just provide a very brief description of each. One involves an American tourist, Hayley (Alison Pill), who falls in love with Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), which results in her parents, Phyllis (Judy Davis) and Jerry (Woody Allen), coming to visit. Another tells the tale of an aspiring architect, Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), who falls in love with a friend, Monica (Ellen Page), of his girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig).
Then theres the story of a young man, Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi), who has recently married Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi). The two are in Rome for a meeting with some of his relatives, but Milly ends up getting lost while attempting to find a salon. In a bizarre mistake, a woman, Anna (Penelope Cruz), shows up at their room, thinking that Antonio is a client that shes supposed to be pleasuring. All of a sudden, his relatives burst into the room, beginning a charade where Anna pretends to be Milly. The final story involves an average man, Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), who is suddenly and inexplicably thrust into a most peculiar celebrity status.
As with any film attempting to tell multiple stories in one film, the writer runs a risk of having any one of those stories bog the film down, or at the very least, having one or two that just arent as strong as the others. This ends up being the scenario that Allen lays out for himself. One or two of these stories work quite well, while the others are a little weaker. This, of course, leads to the inevitable desire to get back to the stories that are the most engaging (i.e the ones that actually feel like they are getting somewhere).
One of the stories that doesnt work particularly well is the story of Jack falling in love with his girlfriends friend. Its a rather predictable story with a really strange element added to it. Near the beginning of his tale, Jack happens to meet a famous architect by the name of John (Alec Baldwin), whom he invites home. From then on, John acts as a kind of side character, telling John that he is in danger of falling in love with Monica. This becomes rather distracting as at times it seems as though John is simply a figment of his imagination, but then you remember that he interacted with others earlier and occasionally does with Monica as well. However, instead of getting engaged in the story as you should be, youre more so left wondering why hes still hanging around them.
The other story that was weaker than the others was the tale of Antonio and Milly. Part of it is a semi-interesting mistaken identity kind of story, but neither of their parts in this film really get anywhere. Millys adventure was actually slightly more intriguing as it deals with her meeting a famous Italian actor and questioning whether she should sleep with him or not, but again, as far as engaging the audience, theres not much to this section of the film.
When it comes to Hayley and Michelangelo, they dont even end up being the intriguing part of their section. When Hayleys parents come to visit, we discover that Jerry is a retired opera director, so when he hears Michelangelos father, Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), singing in the shower with an amazing voice, he immediately tries to get him to sing in a public venue. However, things dont go particularly well, mainly because they realize that his best singing is done in the shower. This gives Jerry one of the strangest ideas ever thought of for presenting Giancarlos talent: allowing Giancarlo to shower on stage while performing opera. Its certainly one of the weirdest things youll ever see, but it also helps make this one of the more entertaining tales of Allens film.
The story that ends up working best is also the films simplest part. Leopoldo is just like any other man. He has a family and a good job. Nothing out of the ordinary ever seems to happen to him. However, one morning he is met with a swarm of photographers and is whisked away to a news studio where he is asked the most mundane questions possible such as What did you have for breakfast? and What kind of bread do you prefer? This continues as hes invited to movie premieres and is hit on by several beautiful women. Obviously, for a man who likes his privacy and has never thought of himself as anyone important, this all comes off as very strange.
Its this story that offers the most interesting theme that Allen has to offer. Its a story meant to examine the nature of celebrity and how the masses tend to idolize some of the most unimportant people around. Take for instance the publics fascination with The Kardashians, or Paris Hilton, or more recently, Honey Boo Boo. Are these people worthy of anyones attention? Absolutely not, and yet, for some reason there are several people who love to know what theyre doing. Is Leopoldo worthy of all this attention? Not really, but it just goes to show that the public has bizarre tastes in who they want to know about.
It may have been the best story, but unfortunately, it gets the least attention, tipping the balance over to the stories that tended to make the film drag a bit. Its certainly not a bad movie. In fact, as far as Allens weaker efforts go, its better than Whatever Works and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. I may not be able to fully recommend the film, but its also one of those that I wouldnt try to talk you out of seeing either.
Looking at the DVD itself, the film is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that is rather sharp quality for a DVD. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio is likewise crisp and clean allowing you to comprehend every bit of dialogue that Allen crams into every scene (though, on a sidenote, a lot of the film is in Italian, so the great video quality for the subtitles also helps out with this). As far as the quality goes, you couldnt ask for much better than this.
However, as far as special features go, you certainly could ask for better. All the disc comes with is a nine-minute featurette entitled Con Amore: A Passion for Rome. Basically, it consists of quick interview snippets with cast and crew (unfortunately, this does not include Allen himself) telling us very little about how the film got made, though they do tell us a little about the way Allen works. According to the cast, Allen would allow them to do their own thing once they got on camera, telling them to forget what was on the page. This led to a lot of ad-libbing and spontaneity, giving the film a more realistic feeling like you find in some of Allens other works. Even though this was an interesting little tidbit, theres not much else to be learned from this featurette.
Overall, there are some things to like about To Rome with Love, such as a couple of intriguing tales and a delightful cast that consists of multiple Oscar winners and nominees, but when you weigh all four stories together, youll more than likely find that its not worth sitting through due to the weaker ones. Its rather interesting that the least complex story offered up the most interesting theme, ergo making it the best of the tales. Sometimes simplicity goes quite a long way. Unfortunately this is something Allen didnt consider when putting too many stories into this one film.