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To Rome With Love

Posted by martinteller on February 11, 2013

I was going to start this review by saying I don’t know why I keep coming back to Woody Allen.  But that’s not fair.  Maybe his best work is far behind him — I’d say he hasn’t done a truly great movie in 20 years — but every now and then he comes up with something pretty good (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and the outright clunkers are fairly rare.  Still, based on the utter lack of buzz about this one, I had pretty low expectations going in.  Even the concept — four alternating stories set in Rome — sounds light on effort and inspiration.

Let’s tackle them one by one.  The biggest throwaway is Roberto Benigni as a regular guy who is inexplicably rocketed to stardom.  Paparazzi follow him everywhere, women throw themselves at him, he gets special treatment.  It’s a non-starter of a premise with a predictable conclusion.  Benigni is a charming performer, and although he doesn’t really get to put his talents to work here, he saves it from being a complete waste.  But there’s nothing fresh or even particularly witty about the material.

A slight step up involves Woody Allen and Judy Davis as the parents of Alison Pill.  Woody and Judy have flown into Rome because their daughter is getting married to one of the natives (Flavio Parenti).  Woody’s a retired music producer, and he discovers that the groom’s father (Fabio Armiliato) has a talent for singing opera in the shower.  Believing he’s discovered a major new talent, his hopes are crushed when it turns out he can only sing in the shower.  You can probably see where this is going, but it’s not bad.  Davis (so superb in Husbands and Wives) gets most of the movie’s best lines and delivers them with delightful sarcasm.  Woody’s stuff, by comparison, is feeling a little stale.  But the story has a couple of fun moments.

The most interesting of the lot has Alec Baldwin as an architect who, strolling around his old stomping grounds, stumbles across a younger version of himself (Jesse Eisenberg).  Eisenberg is living with his girlfriend Greta Gerwig, whose friend Ellen Page comes to visit.  In another of Allen’s magic realism twists, Baldwin lingers in these characters’ lives providing running commentary, sarcastic jabs and experienced advice for Eisenberg, as the young man finds himself falling for Page’s superficial charms.  Frankly I find Page about as captivating as a saltine cracker, but Baldwin is enjoyable as usual and Eisenberg holds his own (in the second most Woody-esque role in the film, after the man himself of course).  Although a lot of the insights here feel awfully familiar, it hits the right tones and I loved Baldwin seeing through Page’s baloney.

My favorite, however, is about two newlyweds: Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi), just arrived in Rome to start a new life.  Milly goes out to get hair done, instantly gets lost, and meets a famous actor (Antonio Albanese).  Meanwhile a mixup gets Antonio stuck pretending a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) is his wife for his relatives and future employers.  As a comic premise it’s not the most original idea in the world, but all the pieces fit together nicely, and the principals are all sweet and funny.  It’s a little too flippant about infidelity for my tastes, but it’s all in good fun.

All in good fun… this is very much Allen in “just plain fun” mode.  Nothing here is that memorable and much of it is the same old territory and there aren’t that many really funny bits.  But it’s decent.  I’m probably in a small minority, but I enjoyed it more than Midnight in Paris.  I certainly wouldn’t consider it one of his essential films, but not a total waste of time.  Rating: Good (70)


5 Responses to “To Rome With Love”

  1. Evan Staats said

    I still haven’t seen this one yet, but I also have asked myself why I keep seeing every new Woody. I agree that it’s worth it because he still puts out surprisingly good movies here and there. And I also tend to think that a lot of the ones that are completely trashed by critics are rarely as bad as they make them out to be. I think that sometime directors get unfairly compared to their earlier work by critics so a merely mediocre movie by Woody is made out to be a total disaster. But I think I mostly keep going back to Woody because I like being in his world. If I go a while without watching one of his movies, I get a strong desire to pop one in. This is what having favorite directors is all about, getting lost in their world for a while.

    Also, have you seen the new TSPDT 1,000? How many are there that you haven’t seen now? I assume not too many. Are you going to attempt to watch “Empire”? I imagine that is one you’ll probably decide is not worth watching.

    • I actually kind of DON’T like being in Woody’s world a lot of the time, which increasingly seems out of touch with the common man. Maybe that’s why I liked the Antonio/Milly the most out of these stories. But most of his films are still worth watching, even if the peaks are few and far between.

      I’m actually just about to do a post about the TSPDT update. Should be up sometime today.

  2. Danny Reid said

    I think it’s funny you ended it with ‘not very memorable’ because I watched this in the theater and realized I had to read your descriptions in order to remember what happened. But, yeah, I had about the same reaction as you. From what I recall.

    • I’ve forgotten everything about ANYTHING ELSE except that Jason Biggs in it. I can’t recall one other thing about it. Is Jimmy Fallon also in it and they go to a baseball game? That might be a different one. I dunno.

      • Danny said

        I think the baseball game you’re remembering is from Melinda and Melinda, which had Will Farrell meeting up with Steve Carrell at a baseball game. With Melinda. Or you could be right! I guess ‘forgettable’ for Allen films is still better than CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION.

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