Both likeable and unlikeable, Woody Allen is not an easy filmmaker to understand. He’s critical of his own work, has a strange life story, is a usual no-show at the Academy Awards despite his incredible amount of nominations, yet still has a captivating but oddly unconventional way about the way he makes movies. Some simply do not like him or his work while others consider him groundbreaking and actually choose to follow his career in admiration. ‘To Rome With Love’ is typical Woody Allen, and typical however you choose to see it. It’s not incredible but not altogether bad. To really see the effect of this film, one needs to look at the big picture: the story, the characters, and how well it balances and works together and try to leave the mighty Allen out of it as much as his stricter style allows.
‘To Rome With Love’ holds its own in mostly certain performances, the ever-timeless setting of Rome, and some stories’ different tones. Having a number of plotlines running at once, yet not intertwining, can be interesting, but if they don’t hold equal weight, like here, it doesn’t flow as smoothly. Perhaps the best storylines were the Italian ones themselves, spoke in Italian by Italian actors. Being in Rome, one wants to see some of that lifestyle. Are the storylines strange, where Roberto Benigni’s character is being chased by paparazzi for reasons left vague and a newlywed couple losing one another during their visit leading each into sexually confusing experiences? Yes they are, but these two stories hold an authentic humor and enthusiasm that just comes from the cultural background within it. Not to mention Roberto Benigni is not only well known in Italy but in America as well (‘Life is Beautiful’) and is the very face of charisma. In these moments, the cast (including Penélope Cruz) and culture are at the very least entertaining.
What put ‘To Rome With Love’ most off balance were the other two plotlines. A student couple Jack and Sally (Jesse Eisenberg and Greta Gerwig) welcome her friend Monica (Ellen Page) to Rome after she’s suffered through a breakup. Monica rumbles up new sexual vibes that have Jack drooling over her, and John (Alec Baldwin), an architecture student in Rome years ago who runs into Jack by chance and reminisces with him briefly, becomes a phantom voice of reason. He is not actually presenting reality but is onscreen seeing Jack and Monica through their mistakes. Being the only portion of the film that has a following conscience in a blazer, it feels unfounded and unnecessary. One thing is not like the other, and this stands out too much, no matter how much of an ‘Allen’ thing it is to do in adding side narratives. Also standing out is Monica’s unlikeable character who pushes manipulative to a strange and too calculated level.
And lastly Woody Allen comes in, playing Hayley’s (Alison Pill) father Jerry who hates retirement and winds up this whole endeavor to make her new fiancé’s father Giancarlo (well known opera tenor Fabio Armiliato) showcase his opera singing talent in an obscure stage production of Pagliacci, all while visiting Rome where the engaged met, a trip initially set to simply meet the fiancé’s family. Jerry’s wife is a psychologist who’s always analyzing him, the families’ opinions never match, and Allen acts as he always does, sputtering jokes and sarcasms for raw and sometimes ineffective humor. Most of this is uncomfortable and irritating, although Giancarlo is great in not only voice, but acting also, ‘To Rome With Love’ being his first opportunity beyond the TV movie circuit.
The lack of consistency and disparities between stories don’t allow for this film to come together as best it could. Although each story is unique, some better than others, they would come off more successfully as their own entities; they are each too different. With a few bizarre characters and some points not fully developed to really know where Allen is coming from, ‘To Rome With Love’ is a risk to have made and a risk to watch that is entertaining, but not a cinematic masterpiece. Seeing Rome to such an extent is a treat and beautiful no matter how you treat it, but if you’re watching this film for a good story rather than Italian flare, it’s possible to be disappointed.