To Rome with Love sees Woody Allen continue to develop his collective of films about Americans abroad. Midnight in Paris (Allen, 2011) was that rare Woody Allen film; being a critical and commercial success – something Allen has scarcely achieved in the last 20 years. The question then, is whether To Rome with Love would be as good as the film it followed, or would it have more in common with the boresome You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Allen, 2010), or, would it flounder somewhere in the middle? I visited Dartington’s Barn Cinema to find out…
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In To Rome with Love, Woody introduces a host of characters. Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), an office clerk shcmuck who wakes up to discover he’s famous, although for what,he isn’t exactly sure. John (Alec Baldwin), an architect who decides to visit the street he lived on as a student, where he meets a budding architect named Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) – and presumably they’re the same person. Jack lives with his American girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig) and when Sally’s ‘vivacious’ friend comes to stay, Jack ends up falling for his girlfriend’s best friend. Then there’s a young couple on their honeymoon and a funeral director who has a talent for singing, but only when he’s in the shower.
Roberto Benigni’s story about a schmuck plays to Benigni’s skittish strengths, while at first he’s confused and bewildered by his new found attention, it isn’t long until he’s reaping the benefits of his fleeting, 15 minutes of fame – sleeping with the office seductress before moving on to models and actresses. Alec Baldwin’s nostalgic trip is largely the story of Eisenberg’s Jack and his lusting for Sally’s best friend, Monica, played by the gratingly nasal Ellen Page. However, John and Jack are arguably the same person, just at different ages, so this story is about John reminiscing Jack’s relationship, is in fact John’s.
Jack’s swooning for Monica’s supposed intellect and sexuality is humorous, just not in the intended sense. Page is not, I repeat, not, the embodiment of a sensual temptress. Page is irritating and nasal. Now, Greta Gerwig, that’s a different matter. Gerwig could do temptress and do it well. Gerwig, for those not in the know, is the actress who starred in Ti West’s phenomenal House of the Devil (West, 2009), but here she’s never given the opportunity to shine, she does an admirable job as the dowdy, dependable girlfriend, but she could have shone as Monica.
The story that is given the least amount of screen time concerns Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi), a newly wed couple who are in Rome so Antonio can introduce his new wife to his extended family and woo his way into the family business. The couple get separated when Milly disappears to have her hair cut and gets lost, while lost, Milly has an adventure traipsing around the streets of Rome and meets a famous actor.
Antonio, however, is greeted in his hotel room by Anna (Penélope Cruz), a prostitute who mistakes Antonio for her ‘trick’. Unfortunately, his family bursts through the door and mistakes Anna for his wife, and so hijinks ensue. This sequence will be best remembered for Penélope Cruz’s red dress, she, unlike Ellen Page, is the personification of sensuality, and is, quite simply, stunning.
The funeral director’s story features none other than Woody himself. The premise for this scenario is two sets of parents coming together to meet each other as their children plan to wed. It’s this story which really grabs your attention and that’s down to Woody’s presence, although at first it does feel as though he’s doing an impression of his younger-self. However, that feeling quickly dissipates and Woody’s mannerisms and curmudgeonly nature, soon win you over.
In one scene, where Jerry (Woody) meets his daughter’s soon to be father in law, the funeral director (Fabio Armiliato), the director exclaims that he’s just finished work and shakes Jerry’s hand. Predictably, Jerry can’t seem to shake the fear that he’s somehow been contaminated, as if he’s literally, been touched by the hand of death. In the next scene we him looking at his hand, the concern wracked across his face. But, as good as this section is, it does overplay its hand come its conclusion, with the singing funeral director not only performing in a shower on stage, but also in a shower, in a play.
Rather tellingly, Jerry equates retirement with death, so it isn’t a gigantic leap to draw comparison’s to Woody’s own life, what with his rather prolific, yearly output. Even if the vast majority of his filmography (in the last twenty years) has been utter bilge, he’s still not retired.
On the whole, To Rome with Love features some good acting, lots of humour and for the most part, Woody pulls everything off. It isn’t as fulfilling as Midnight in Paris, but it was certainly more enjoyable than Match Point (Allen, 2005), and as a bonus it features a nice turn from the man himself. It isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly fun.