Friday, July 13, 2012

718 - To Rome With Love review

“To Rome With Love” is classic Woody Allen, more in the sense that it contains many of the elements we expect from the icon’s films more than it is particularly wonderful. I don’t want to say Allen’s coasting, since anyone who has attempted writing and filming a movie knows it’s a brutally tough enterprise, but this feels pretty close.

This is one of his comedies, and a lighter one at that. It takes us through four stories set in Rome, none of which ever connect, either practically or thematically.

My favorite of the four: Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), an architectural student, lives with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) in Rome. Sally’s best friend Monica (Ellen Page) moves in, her pseudo-intellectual posturing and casual beauty sending Jack into a frenzy of Allen-esque lust and indecision. Alec Baldwin plays Jack’s hero, who magically appears in these scenes to warn the characters against every impulse they have, unsuccessfully. This material has been covered by Allen in literally dozens of films, yet no filmmaker has ever managed the delightful combination of humor, skewed morality, and human interest that he makes look effortless.

Another story: Antonio (Alessandro Tiberian) and his new bride Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) arrive in Rome to meet his family. Milly gets lost in Rome and runs into a beloved Italian movie star (Antonio Albanese), while Antonio unexpectedly receives the determined attention of a gorgeous prostitute (Penelope Cruz). Both halves of the marriage are desperate to remain faithful to one another, though as one of them eventually reasons, why not regret the fun rather than regret the lack of it?

Another: Allen plays Jerry, a hack opera director not enjoying his forced retirement from the music biz. He and his wife (Judy Davis) fly to Rome to see their daughter (Alison Pill) and meet her fiancé (Flavio Parenti). As if begrudgingly responding to criticism that his recent films have spent time gratuitously insulting conservatives, Allen has Jerry aghast at the fiancé’s communist sympathies. He doesn’t like the fiancé one bit, but he does like the father (opera singer Fabio Armiliato), who sings flawless opera, with one caveat: he must be in the shower. So Jerry sets up an opera that would look normal were it not for the lead always singing naked under a torrent of water and soap. This appears funnier on screen than it reads on the page.

Finally: Roberto Benigni plays a markedly ordinary low-level bureaucrat who wakes up one morning to find himself the most revered celebrity in Italy. Suddenly, the paparazzi tracks his every move, and TV anchors breathlessly report on what he had for breakfast and his preferred method of shaving. Allen clearly disdains those famous for being famous, though the bureaucrat’s not a figure to revile, but pity. I’m reminded that Allen has claimed that the bad parts of fame are “greatly outweighed by the dinner reservations.”

All four scenarios unfold with charm that grows from modest to moderate as the plots progress. Allen’s films usually have a clear, in often conflicted, moral to explore, though here he demonstrates an uncharacteristic lack of concern for thematic unity. If there’s a consistent bit of wisdom to be found, perhaps it’s that good things happen not by virtue of one’s wisdom, but by glorious, dumb luck, though I’m not even certain that was intentional.

This is a far cry from his best work, such as “The Purple Rose of Cairo” or “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” but it should fit securely in his filmography as a minor yet enjoyable entry. If nothing else, it presents, along with Oliver Stone’s excellent drug-thriller “Savages,” apt adult counter-programming for a summer film season crowded with dull blockbusters and animated children’s fare. After all, it’s preferable to watch Woody Allen coast than see 99% of working filmmakers give it their all.

3 out of 5

1 comment:

Customer recommendations for Bear Viewing trips said...

There are four "stories", linked by the fact that they all take place in Rome. None of them are funny, interesting or in the slightest way connected to how real people exist.