Mike Finkelstein took a trip to Rome recently. It was a city filled with wonderful people, beautiful women, and gorgeous scenery. Oh, and there was a little anxious man named Woody that followed him around everywhere…it was somewhat strange. Either way, he found time while there to see a film about the location. Here is his review of “To Rome With Love”.
PLOT: Four vignettes telling stories in the beautiful city of Rome, in the way that only Woody Allen knows how.
Check out the trailer:
MIKE’S REVIEW: For the past decade or so, Woody Allen has been seemingly making his way through Europe to find his muse. Sometimes, it works magnificently (MATCH POINT, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA), and other times, not so much (SCOOP, YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER). After last year’s beautiful love letter to the streets of Paris, fans were anxiously waiting to get a glimpse of his newest tribute to a European city, aptly titled TO ROME WITH LOVE. But while the elegant city views and trademark Allen wit is present and ready to go, the coordination and depth that should be with it seems to be missing.
Based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron”, ROME is comprised of four separate overlapping vignettes that are as different in feel as they are with their social commentary. We follow Alec Balwin’s John, as he wanders his old stomping ground and runs into Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), a young architect who falls for his girlfriend’s eccentric best friend (Ellen Page). Soon, Baldwin becomes a fly-on-the-wall throughout the couple’s few weeks together, leaving the obvious impression that he is actually reminiscing about his own experience, and Jack is really just the younger version of him.
Next up is the tale of Antonio and Milly (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi), two newlyweds who arrive in Rome to meet Antonio’s aunts and uncles about a job opportunity. As Milly runs into the biggest movie star in Europe when she gets lost looking for a hair salon, Antonio has a misguided prostitute (the stunning Penelope Cruz) show up at his door the same moment his family arrives. Hilarity ensues.
Following both of those is the joy-filled Roberto Benigni (who can ever be angry at this man?) as an average guy who becomes an instant celebrity for no apparent reason, and the mandatory vignette with Allen himself as a newly retired music man finding out his future son-in-law’s father (real life tenor Fabio Armiliato) has an amazing talent for singing in the shower.
You can already see that there is a lot of charm to go around, with everyone in the cast getting a moment or two to shine. Baldwin has some of the best lines in the film (“Walk into the propeller”) with his matter-of-fact, know-it-all delivery, Benigni leaves a smile on your face every time he hits the screen, and Allen gives us the same familiar dose of Allen that any fan of his yearns for once a year when they know he’s releasing another film. (On a side note, Allen found a hell of a wife in Judy Davis, who goes blow for blow with him beautifully.) All of this is done amongst the stunning backdrop of the titular city. Everywhere we go, Allen bombards our senses with marvelous views of the cobblestone streets and historic architecture, even giving us one 360 degree shot in Milly’s world that is almost a message to the audience saying “Yes, this is why it’s magnificent…” If this is his love letter to the city, his scenery plays like poetry.
However, with all that, TO ROME WITH LOVE is no MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Maybe it’s unfair to hold Allen up to the standard of his previous Oscar winner, but there is a certain disconnect this time around. Yes, while all the characters do deliver on the surface, there is no real conflict amongst anyone to deliver any depth. We barely get to know some, and when we think we know others, things are done almost completely out of character to jar our view of them.
The storytelling technique doesn’t help matters much, either. We’re meant to believe that these are the stories of Rome, yet none seem anywhere near exclusive to the city. Each vignette has a different feel to it, ranging from complete farce and fantasy to a realistic day-in-the-life, as well as a different time span, ranging from a few hours to a few weeks. The short blurbs are probably good little tales if placed on their own, but after a certain point, with the reality around us constantly changing (and the unrealized hope of some sort of connection or interaction between them…), there is a certain discombobulating feeling that settles in. Is this a commentary on celebrity and life? Is this just a fun take on growing old? I gave up after a while trying to figure it out.
There is a certain joy that one gets when they go to a Woody Allen movie. When the lights go dim and those familiar plain title cards hit the screen, you can’t help but get a smile on your face as you look forward to the quick talking, sarcastic, neurotic sense of humor that is sure to come. But after more than three decades in the business (and a pretty steady flow of a film a year), it’s safe to say that Allen’s career has hit both highs and lows. While TO ROME WITH LOVE is nowhere near the low points of some recent flicks, its inconsistencies keep it from being near the high. I’ll put this one down on the better half, however, if only for the beautiful scenery (I need to go to Rome, like, now), and the great little bits on the surface that’ll no doubt bring a smile to your face.
1) ALEC BALDWIN: The man is hysterical in everything he does. Here, he plays the sarcastic know-it-all older man perfectly, and as the proverbial fly-on-the-wall, gives us some of the best moments in the film.
2) ROBERTO BENIGNI: No matter what Benigni does with his newfound celebrity, you cannot get angry at him! He is just too damn sweet and innocent. Every time he hit the screen, a smile hit my face. I swear, the man could murder someone in front of a group of cops, and they’d still let him off because of his smile and happiness.
3) ROME: I now am convinced that I have to go to Rome. Allen paints the city beautifully, and leaves us wanting the better, simpler life that seems to await us over there. Twas a fine tribute, indeed.
4) A WOODY ALLEN FILM: No matter how many issues there may be, there’s something about seeing a Woody Allen film in theaters. Seeing those familiar title cards and hearing those familiar sarcastic comments that only Woody could come up with is golden, and to know that your filmography has that sort of effect on people, even if your newer works don’t exactly hit the bar, is stunning.
5) BOOKEND COMMENTARY: To see the two men of Rome popping up out of nowhere to give us an introduction and fond farewell was more than cute. Only Woody…
1) NO RHYTHM: With a script that keeps bouncing back and forth between topics, feels, commentary, and time, it’s hard to keep track of your feelings toward the movie. I just wish that there was a bit more organization.
2) PLOT DEVELOPMENT: While all the characters were very cute, there was a depth that was missing this time around.
1) The film was originally titled THE BOP DECAMERON, and then NERO FIDDLED. Allen changed the names when he realized audiences didn’t really understand the references to The Decameron, a medieval collection of novellas.
2) Both Aaron Johnson and Robert Pattinson auditioned for a role.