To Rome with Love C
Frivolous, derivative, and overlong, “To Rome with Love,” Woody Allen’s episodic romantic comedy, is one of the weakest entries in the director’s world film tour that began about a decade ago.
It’s a relief to report that having visited and worked in London, Barcelona, Paris, and now Rome, the director has announced that his next feature will be shot in Manhattan, his home and the site of his best work to date.
It’s no secret that the main motivation for having set his stories in Europe’s most famous and glamorous cities was financial. Before hitting the global road, Allen’s artistic and commercial track record was rather poor; he all but lost his core audiences.
With the exception of “Match Point,” the British-set films were poorly received, both critically and commercially. The Spain-set “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” was mildly entertaining, considerably elevated by Penelope Cruz, in an Oscar-winning turn.
The valentine to the City of Light, “Midnight in Paris,” was a highlight in Allen’s entire career, his top-grossing film, which was appreciated by fans, critics, and industry colleagues, garnering Oscar nominations (Best Picture, Director) and Awards (Original Screenplay).
And now comes the sharply uneven and only sporadically engrossing anthology, “To Rome with Love,” set in the Eternal City, where it had premiered in April, generating nice box-office gross of over $10 million. (Since the 1990s, Allen has been more popular and respected in Europe than in the U.S.).
The “new” comedy received its U.S. premiere as opening night of the Los Angeles Film Fest, and will be released by Sony Classic stateside June 22 in a platform mode. (Allen and his associates must have realized that their new movie is poor for they opted not to display it at the prestigious Cannes Film Fest, where many of the director’s previous works had been shown)
Harking back to Allen’s older comedies, humor, and shticks, “To Rome with Love” features Allen’s first on-screen performance since “Scoop,” in 2006. Having tasted what it takes to stage an opera (Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi,” in Los Angeles, several years ago), Allen has cast himself as an old American opera director, aiming to put a singing mortician on stage.
If the character’s endeavor sounds frivolous and minor, it is. It’s also reflective of the whole nature of the movie, which is composed of episodes that are intercut in an arbitrary, univentive way. Moreover, it’s never clear whether the separate stories take place at the same time, or what is the precise narrative duration of each tale’s adventure.
The other central characters of what feels like a schematically conceived movie are a well-known American architect reliving his youth, an ordinary middle-class Italian man who suddenly becomes a celeb, and a young provincial couple drawn into separate romantic encounters.
On paper, the cast sounds great, until you actually see what little its members are given to say, do, and act by way of humor, substance, an significance. Can you go wrong with Alec Baldwin, Judy Davis, and Penelope Cruz, among others? Yes, you can.
In his second appearance in an Allen picture, Alec Baldwin plays John, a famous architect vacationing in Rome, where he had lived years before. Walking in his former neighborhood, he encounters Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), a young man who reminds him of himself.
Amused and bemused, John watches Jack falling for the flirtatious Monica (Ellen Page), who is friends with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) dazzling, he relives one of the most romantically painful episodes of his own life.
Enter retired opera director Jerry (Woody Allen), who flies to Rome with his wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) to meet their daughter Hayley’s (Alison Pill) Italian fiancée, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). One day, Jerry is amazed to hear Michelangelo’s undertaker father, Giancarlo (played by the renowned tenor Fabio Armiliato) singing great arias–in the shower. Jerry thinks it’s a waste of genuine talent, and so, he grabs the opportunity to promote Giancarlo, which will also help rejuvenate his own dwindling career.
Oscar-winner Roberto (“Life is Beautiful”) Benigni plays Leopoldo Pisanello, an ordinary, even boring guy, who suddenly finds himself to be one of Italy’s biggest celebs. How did it happen? No matter. The paparazzi trail Roberto’s moves and question his motivations for the most trivial act. As Leopoldo gets used to the luxurious seductions of celebrityhood, he begins to realize the other side, the heavy price of being famous.
Meanwhile, the provincial Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) arrives in Rome hoping to impress his relatives with his lovely new wife Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) so that he can get a high-paying job. Through chance and comic misunderstanding, the couple is separated, and Antonio encounters a stranger (Penélope Cruz), while Milly is courted by legendary movie star Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese).
To say that “Ro Rome with Love” is based on second-hand material, recycling ideas and characters from Allen’s previous films as well as from numerous comedies by Italian directors that Allen admires, is an understatement.
The whole movie, which is only sporadically diverting, seems to be a product of quick conception and execution. More than anything else, it shows Allen’s determination to keep his prodigious pace of the past five decades of turning one picture per year, perhaps even achieving the record of being the fastest, most prolific American filmmaker alive.
For the record, comparatively speaking, cloaking in at 112 minutes, “To Rome with Love” has one of the longest running time for an Allen work. Unfortunately, it feels this way.
Production: Medusa Film, Gravier Productions, Perdido Productions
Director-screenwriter: Woody Allen
Producers: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Giampaolo Letta, Faruk Alatan
Director of photography: Darius Khondji
Production designer: Anne Seibel
Costume designer: Sonia Grande
Editor: Alisa Lepselter
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 112 minutes
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