To Rome with Love
Written and directed by Woody Allen. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Woody Allen, Penélope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Greta Gerwig, Alison Pill, Judy Davis, Ornella Muti, Riccardo Scamarcio, Alessandro Tiberi, Maricel Álvarez, Monica Nappo, Flavio Parenti, Sergio Rubini, Vinicio Marchioni, Massimo Ghini, Antonio Albanese, Isabella Ferrari, Alessandra Mastronardi, Lina Sastri, Carol Alt, David Pasquesi.
Note: roughly half of To Rome with Love is in Italian, subtitled in Czech on local screens; it’s difficult to recommend catching it if you don’t speak either language, but there’s nothing too complicated in the Italian-language segments of the film that would prevent some level of enjoyment.
Four separate Rome-set storylines are given equal screen time in Woody Allen’s latest, To Rome with Love: one is pretty great, two are mild, and the fourth is kind of a bust. I don’t know if the one good segment is enough to make up for the others, but I had enough of a good time here to recommend the film as a whole. As the director’s most overtly comical film in about a decade, it’s a crowd-pleasing effort that will appeal most to general audiences but might disappoint Allen’s most ardent fans.
The film’s best segment involves young love between an American tourist Hayley (Alison Pill) and local Roman Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti); you think the story is going in one direction, but it goes somewhere completely different with the introduction of Hayley’s parents Jerry (Allen) and Phyllis (Judy Davis).
Jerry is a retired one-time opera director who becomes enchanted when he hears Michelangelo’s father singing in the shower; without giving too much away, the climax features a wonderfully surreal setup that recalls some of Allen’s best comedy work in the 1970s. It’s uproariously funny, a description that hasn’t been used for most of the director’s recent work.
The other English-language storyline involves famous architect John Foy (Alec Baldwin), who runs into young architect Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) while wandering around his old stomping grounds in Rome and inserts himself into his life. Jack lives with girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig), but his love life is thrown for a loop when Sally’s neurotic friend Monica (Ellen Page) comes to visit.
This segment is rather flat and predictable – and pretty much non-farcical, it sticks out against the others – but it has one thing really going for it: Alec Baldwin, who has a lot of fun as a kind of Greek chorus to Jack’s situation, and the unconventional way in which his character is presented. Is he a figment of Jack’s imagination? Is he remembering Jack as a younger version of himself? Sometimes the other characters react to him, at others they don’t seem to know he’s there. This ambiguity might put some viewers off, but I found it charming.
In the film’s third segment, average working man Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) wakes up to find himself an instant celebrity, to his complete bewilderment. Though simple and straightforward, this segment is pretty fun, showcasing Benigni (who hasn’t appeared onscreen since 2005 after Pinocchio and The Tiger and the Snow were torn apart by critics and failed to find an audience) as a delightfully deadpan comic performer.
In the film’s weakest segment, a young couple (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi) celebrating their honeymoon in Rome get separated and eventually wind up with other partners. This is pure farce, pretty silly, and not especially clever; it’s an accurate recreation of a 1970s Italian sex romp, but little more. It does, however, feature a real knockout in Penelope Cruz as an escort named Anna; her figure, bursting out of a tight red dress, winds up being one of the more memorable images from the film.
These storylines are edited together to no significant outcome; some seem to take place over a couple days, others over a number of weeks or months. Some awfully bland opening and closing narration doesn’t add much, either. Rome looks great, but there’s too much going on here, and too quickly, for the director to really capture the magic of the city as he did in Midnight in Paris.
Like most of Woody’s work, To Rome with Love features an excellent soundtrack, including a number of classical and opera tracks; my favorite piece, however, is the Starlite Orchestra’s version of Amada Mia Amore Mio, which perfectly accompanies the farcical Penelope Cruz segment and plays out over the closing credits.