Following the outsized success of Midnight In Paris, Woody Allen presents another tale of mystical comic romance set in a postcard vision of a European city. Lacking a central conceit as cohesive as his last travelogue comedy, To Rome With Love feels unfinished —a problem it partly addresses but can't recover from. Box office between these titles will replicate what tourist bureaus already know: Rome won't be as popular as Paris.
Woody Allen's dogged insistence he produce a film a year makes it hard to anticipate what he'll be pulling out next or how much care he'll give it. Audience attachment to the projects seems similarly arbitrary; Midnight In Paris was warmly received primarily because it was a travelogue tripping through the idealized charms of Paris, it's investigation of nostalgia was largely overlooked. Moving on to an Italian location, Allen has no unified theme except a vague notion of Rome as an eternal city where stories play themselves out in perpetuity. The four disconnected stories in the film seem at moments to nod to the Italian New Wave (if more to Fellini's popular La Dolce Vita than to Antonioni's internal L'Avventura), but never in a way that feels particularly thought through.
The film's most fully realized story is of a successful American architect (Alec Baldwin) on holiday in Rome. Trying to find the apartment he lived in while studying there as a young man, he meets an American architecture student (Jesse Eisenberg) who shows him around the neighborhood. That boy's girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) has another friend coming to visit, an aspiring actress and accomplished seductress (Ellen Page). Baldwin's older architect weaves in and out of scenes, often unacknowledged, as if revisiting his younger self.
The story's enigmatic uncertainty is its flaw and its strength, leaving a viewer wondering from scene-to-scene just what's going on. Page is counter-intuitively cast as a man-eating femme fatale to great success. Meanwhile, Gerwig's mousy doormat is a criminal underuse of the actress who recently had meatier turns with wordy/witty post-Allen helmers Noah Baumbach and Whit Stillman.
In another story, a couple comes to Rome from the country to meet fancy city relatives, and when they're accidentally separated, the husband hires a hooker (Penelope Cruz) to stand in for his wife. In another, a retired American music executive (Allen) thinks he can make his fiancé's father into a star—sadly his prospective father-in-law can only rally his operatic voice in the shower. Lastly, there is the story of a completely average and unremarkable Italian man (Roberto Benigni) who becomes a media sensation for no reason at all.
All four stories find Allen in Shouts And Murmurs short story/essay mode, only ever sketching out brief ideas, and more neglectfully than usual. The slightness of the three tales (excluding the architect's reverie) implies further mining won't uncover gold, and lends to the suspicion the entire film is the result of a desk cleaning. Like a package tour holiday, To Rome With Love is benignly pleasant but offers few real surprises.
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Producers: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Giampaolo Letta, Fark Alatan
Rating: R for some sexual references.
Running Time: 112 min.
Release Date: June 22 NY/LA
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