To Rome With Love
To Rome with Love, Woody Allen's latest, is told in four unrelated vignettes, two in English, two in Italian, which lose much more than they gain from the movie’s format. The movie feels hectic — each story isn’t given enough time to develop organically, the characters never have time to really become interesting; the movie, charming and delightful as it is at times, never touches something deeply human in the viewer. But that might be expecting too much of a film that doesn’t take itself so seriously.
The most interesting tale involves Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), a young, aspiring New York architect staying with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) in Rome. One of Sally’s friends, Monica (Ellen Page), a neurotic, pseudo-intellectual, out- of-work actor visits, testing Jack’s ability to remain faithful. Though all the elements are there, something is decidedly missing from this story. The seduction that takes place between Monica and Jack, which can be intriguing at times, is also a tad uninspired. There isn’t enough depth explored in the interior lives of the characters for the story to be entirely satisfying. We don’t have time to grow enamored of Monica, or to get lost in the self-questionings of Jack. Nonetheless, the dialogue is often intelligent, and easy to delight in. Alec Baldwin, who plays an established architect — who is both a real person and a personified moral compass — particularly shines in his snappy, witty asides.
Yet, If the movie can’t fully portray inner complexity, the film excels in its more farcical and ridiculous moments. One can easily get lost in the warm, expansive beauty of Rome — which is captured so brightly by Allen — and simply relish in the absurdity of what is taking place. In another of the stories, Allen plays Jerry, a failed avant-garde composer trying desperately to stay out of retirement, whose daughter (played by Alison Pill) has fallen in love with Michelangelo (played by Flavio Parenti), an Italian lawyer. The families meet and Jerry hears Michelangelo’s father stunning operatic tenor voice and sees an opportunity for a comeback. The problem is: Giancarlo (Michelangelo’s father), played by Fabio Armiliato, can only sing while he’s in the shower. The results are great comedy.
In another tale, Leopoldo, played by Roberto Benigni, finds himself suddenly and inexplicably very famous. He is hounded by paparazzi, interviewed about the most inane of matters, and pursued by beautiful women, and then, well, you’ll find out. Here the film, in its full embrace of light-hearted silliness, truly succeeds. That success is at a price though, things can feel at times a little trivial, though such thoughts can only be after the fact, after you’re no longer under the movie’s spell.
In the last story, Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) and Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi), a young Italian couple who move to Rome to find success, find their relationship challenged, in the most implausible and hilarious of ways — including prostitutes, robbers, and a salon that no one seems to know how to get to. This story feels particularly fragmented, distracting at times, and too easily resolved. But I laughed anyway, even though I’m still unsure as to what exactly the point was.
Like Midnight in Paris, To Rome with Love attempts to weave together the fantastical and the realistic. Nonetheless, whereas Midnight in Paris found pathos in fantasy, and wonder in reality, To Rome with Love, seems content in the observing the real and fantastic as they interact and find ways to produce something zany. At this point, Woody Allen has nothing left to prove. To Rome with Love may not be his best film, nor is it his worst, but Allen still draws a laughter from us that no one else does. Sometimes, laughter can be enough.