Another year, another Woody Allen film. One of the most prolific and celebrated directors of all time is back with his followup to 'Midnight In Paris.' This time, he stays in Europe to bring us 'To Rome With Love.'
All of these vignettes take place in Rome, as if you didn't know.
Hayley (Alison Pill) is an American tourist who falls in love with bleeding-heart liberal lawyer Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). Her parents Jerry (Allen) and Phyllis (Judy Davis) come to visit and meet the other future in-laws. Jerry is an unhappily retired opera director. He sees a golden opportunity when Michelangelo's mortician father Giancarlo (actual opera singer Fabio Armiliato) reveals himself to have an amazing voice while singing in the shower. Jerry seeks to exploit this and get back into the theater.
Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) is an utterly average clerk. One day, he wakes up to find himself followed by paparazzi. He is suddenly the most exciting person in Italy and a celebrity for no good reason. At first, he loves the attention but this is short-lived.
Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) are newlyweds who visit Rome so Antonio can follow up on a job offer from his uncle. With a few extra hours before they are expected for dinner, Milly goes out to get her hair done. She doesn't know the city, loses her phone and quickly becomes lost. Meanwhile, a prostitute named Anna (Penelope Cruz) forces her way into the hotel room and says that she has been paid to be with Antonio because of a bet that some other fellows have lost. This is a case of mistaken identity because Antonio is not really her intended recipient, he is just in the right room. As he tries to get rid of her, his relatives enter the room and rather than explain, he tells them that she is Milly, until he can think of a way to explain. Both husband and wife get into their own set of troubles.
John (Alec Baldwin) visits his old neighborhood in Rome where he lived decades ago. He meets a young aspiring architect named Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) who lives in John's old apartment. They become friendly and we meet Jack's girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig). Sally's best friend, Monica (Ellen Page) is a newly single, struggling actress who is known for breaking hearts. Jack thinks that he will be immune to her charms when she comes to stay with them but that's not the case. What a mess!
The paparazzi storyline is amusing but doesn't make much sense. It seems to be a commentary about those who are famous without ever doing anything. We are given a look at how tabloids focus on the minute details of not very interesting people and magnify them. This is like a one-joke comedy sketch that runs a bit too long. It is never explained why Leopoldo is targeted. You might start off enjoying it, but ultimately, it grows a little tiresome and ends predictably.
The young married couple story has problems of its own. Is it advocating infidelity to strengthen a marriage? Either way, outside of a few mildly unlikely situations, it doesn't really say a lot and isn't that funny. Why doesn't Antonio just explain to his relatives that this woman barged into his room? They might not have believed it, but it would be the truth and less chaotic than it ends up being. Of course, it would have been a lot less entertaining.
It is a lot more fun to just shut up about the inconsistencies and to just go along with them, but still, these need to be addressed here. If you're keeping score, the two stories featuring actual Italian actors are the weak links here.
Enough about the bad.
If you want outlandish, the opera story with Allen is the most effective. This is mostly because it is grounded in some element of reality but also comfortably stretches things. The sight of Giancarlo on stage singing opera in a makeshift shower is one of the funniest and most memorable scenes in a Woody Allen movie in quite some time. Add to that an ambitiously inept Allen character (it's nice to see him on screen again) and you have a lot of fun on screen even though the shower gag is milked a little bit.
The Jack/ Sally/ Monica relationship is fairly conventional, but there was something to work with there. Baldwin's character is maddeningly inconsistent, if one of the more endearing characters in the story. He seems to start off as a real person, but then he seems to become a ghost that only Jack can hear and interact with. Sometimes, that rule is broken and others argue with the points he is making, but it is all handled very strangely. There's nothing wrong with having a voice of reason character, but know what to do with him.
Either way, Allen has made movies on thinner premises than a doomed semi-love triangle. So much of this is really good, but by the end, it feels rushed. Gerwig seems underused. She initiates a very dangerous scenario for her relationship but is then largely absent from the story. When you can only devote a little less than half an hour to each of four stories, that places some restrictions. This would have benefited from being given more time and it could have been even better.
Special features include: a trailer.
'To Rome With Love' is a worthwhile, second-tier Woody Allen film. This doesn't deserve to be among his most beloved, but it has a lot of admirable traits. If only this had cut out one or two of the less fruitful story lines and been a little more focused. There was some potential here.
Rated R 112 minutes 2013