Have camera and budget, will travel. Despite his love for New York City, an aging Woody Allen routinely goes to European cities because he finds the money there to finance his passion for cinema. This while Hollywood largely ignores him. Hence, London, Barcelona, Paris and now To Rome With Love.
The love is clearly meant for the Europeans willing to bankroll this comedy co-production, which involves the U.S., Italy and Spain. The love is also spread around to the city of Rome itself, because the movie is a tourist filmmaker’s homage.
My love, however, stops short. The new movie is one of Allen’s duds. Weird, it comes on the heels of a magical triumph, Midnight in Paris. But Woody Allen has always been hit-or-miss artistically. Interiors followed Annie Hall. Alice followed Crimes and Misdemeanors. More recently, Scoop followed Match Point. To Rome With Love now limps along after Midnight in Paris. The French film was the biggest boxoffice hit of his career. I suspect To Rome With Love will sputter out.
Sure, there are some great comic moments. They are found in individual scenes or in the occasional sarcastic line. But, overall, the storytelling is jumbled, the movie is in fragments and too much time is spent with boring silliness. As a result, most members of Allen’s star ensemble look dazed and confused.
In particular, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Alison Pill, Roberto Benigni and Alessandro Tiberi are uncomfortably out of synch. So is Allen, for that matter, in his first on-screen role since 2006. Allen plays husband to Judy Davis. They arrive in Rome to check out their daughter’s firebrand fiance. The lovers are played by Pill and Tiberi. Allen, a retired impressario, becomes obsessed with turning the fiance’s father (Fabio Armiliato) into an opera star. The poor fellow is an undertaker who only sings in the shower. That “inspires” Allen to present him in a unique and absurd new way.
This is just one of four separate stories that are told coincidentally, with no attention paid to the time frames of each. Days overlap but not the plots or characters. Beside the domestic drama revolving around Allen, the stories involve the misguided romantic adventures of a young Italian married couple, the misguided romantic adventures of three visiting American youth, and the misguided celebrity which is thrust upon a humble Italian bureaucrat.
Stars are scattered about. Spanish star Penelope Cruz, who is liquid carnal flesh poured inside a skin-tight red dress, plays an Italian hooker in the young married couple saga. Benigni plays the bureaucrat who is suddenly and inexplicably the focus of paparazzi attention. Alec Baldwin plays the one-man Greek chorus to Eisenberg, Page and Greta Gerwig as they fall into a sexually charged entanglement.
The movie is framed by Roman storytellers who talk directly to the camera and claim to have the insight scoop on what Rome is all about. Allen, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to have a clue. Not in this movie.