To Rome With Love (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

To Rome With Love (2012)

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"Don't try and psychoanalyze me. Many have tried, all have failed."

Those words dribble from the mouth of Jerry (Woody Allen), a man who has become obsessed with redeeming his legacy towards staging eclectic and personal musical performances. As with all movies written and directed by, ahem, Woody Allen, you find yourself looking at that line and those around it with a cocked head; is he really saying what he's saying, or is just the character he's crafted for this go around?

In case you haven't been keeping track, To Rome With Love is Allen's 45th feature length film, so by now most moviegoers can probably build up a basic mental profile of the guy and figure things out from there. For his first time in front of the camera since 2006's Scoop, it's hard not to giggle about his bluntness. If Woody Allen feels like its time for him again to step in front of the camera and tell critics not to bother to try and read into his films (see also Stardust Memories and DeconstructingHarry), that's certainly his right.

Then again, nothing says I have to listen to him.

Why, yes. Yes you are.

Allen's unsubtle remarks to the camera are unfortunately more par for the course in To Rome than not. This film (you knew I'd get around to it at some point) contains four unconnected stories set in Rome, and the movie rotates through them with a merry energy. All four play like what they are: amusing short stories (reading much like one of Allen's literary works) combined under similar themes with a common backdrop. It plays a lot like classic films Yesterday, Tomorrow and Today or La Ronde, where the viewer doesn't expect much more than a whirlwind of funny coincidences and some light moralizing.

The theme here is love (isn't it always?), and Allen touches on a few different types in each piece. The first and worst of these is the idea of unfathomable love, which is portrayed through family man and office clerk Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) who wakes up one day to find himself inexplicably famous. He's hounded by paparazzi and has women throw themselves at him. It's a one note joke, and pays off in the most obvious way.

The second story is Woody's, about Jerry's daughter (Allison Pill) falling in love with an Italian socialist and how Jerry discovers that her future father-in-law is an amazing opera singer-- but only while he's in the shower. This is the familial love, where we see the protectiveness of the family contrast with one man's ego. Its also unsurprising, but some of the visual gags are funny enough that it passes smoothly. Also good here is Judy Davis as Jerry's wife who enjoys dressing him down in completely blunt terms. Judy looks like she's having a lot of fun, and gets to try out her deadpan 'Are you serious?' face more often than you'd expect.

Oh, God, make it end.

Story number three has a pair of newlyweds toeing the line between romantic and sexual love.  Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) are preparing for Antonio's big interview in the city, but, lo and behold, Milly gets lost while trying to get her hair done and a prostitute, Anna (Penelope Cruz), accidentally pops in on Antonio and leaves his relatives with the impression that she's his wife. This leads to a series of misunderstandings wherein both end up sleeping with someone else and begin to feel more at ease with their relationships and personal dreams. It's light, inoffensive sexual farce that's amusing and a little touching in the end.

But the best of the four stories is a little more demanding and less starry eyed. An older architect (Alec Baldwin) runs into his younger self (Jesse Eisenberg) on the Roman streets, and gets to relive one torrid affair of his youth. That's with Monica (Ellen Page), a flighty actress who knows the right way to seduce a guy. The joy here is watching Baldwin interact with his past and try and warn them of the doom that lay ahead. It's, uncharacteristically for Allen, somehow both warm and downbeat, and really captures a sense of open regret that happens so often in life.

So, with To Rome, we end up with four stories. One is abysmal, two are alright, and one is excellent. That averages out to 'alright', and some days I'm pretty open to that, especially considering that the Eisenberg/Baldwin story is good enough that I would probably head to the theater again just to watch it on its own.

Quit being an idiot, you. Me. Whatever.

Allen has spent most of the last decade abroad, and his reflections on each city of his European tour are interesting to observe. His four London films (Match Point, Scoop, Cassandra's Dream, and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) have all painted England as a place of dangerous and dark passions. His stop in Barcelona (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) showed that country to be of torrid and mad emotional highs, while Paris (Midnight in Paris) was a world of historical grandeur and magical romance.

Rome here seems more in line with his personal vision, as its romances emerge from a place of neurosis and obsession. Allen's direct to the camera addresses in To Rome make it clear that he's taking a rest, a lark, and doing something that let's him play with his sense of humor but not challenge himself enough to create a complete 90 minute narrative.

Midnight in Paris was Allen as the 'great director'; To Rome With Love is him taking a break and having some fun. It's not one he'll be remembered for, but when it's on, it's on.

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Posted by Danny

Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Ok, but Allen never stopped in Madrid: the film is called vicky cristina BARCELONA…..:-P

  2. This film really disappointed me because I thought Allen’s writing would at least be somewhat humorous, instead this played off more as just him trying to phone it in. Never thought I’d see that with a Woody Allen movie. Tsk tsk. Good review Danny.

    • A lot of the Woody plot in the film feels like Woody and Davis are just having a good time on vacation. I think a few of the other plots were a little more serious in their aims, but the film’s narration device is so useless and the city so underemphisized, there’s not much here to dig into. Thanks for commenting, Dan.

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