To Rome with Love
During the heyday of the Hollywood studio system it would not be uncommon for a director to make three or four films in a year, but now it is standard to wait long periods for the work of most filmmakers. When Whit Stillman makes a film, it’s an event for a number of reasons, but one is the fact that some comets may appear more often than a new release from the director. The regular and welcome screening of a new Woody Allen film each year is such a familiar feature of the cineaste’s summer that a friend of mine compared it to an old friend visiting town.
I understand what he means. Every time I enter the theater to see a new Allen movie and watch the familiar credit sequence, always in the same font, I smile and flashback to all the previous great Allen films, selectively banishing memories of duds like Small Time Crooks, and wonder how this one is going to differ from all the others.
To Rome with Love is different in that it’s a collection of intercut short stories instead of one long narrative. It’s the closest Allen has come to making a true Robert Altman style ensemble piece, and I think that’s a problem. This material might work better as an anthology film, as many of the stories are predictable, meaning that waiting for the obvious climax is sometimes frustrating. There is also a tonal problem as some of the stories are farcical, others light and breezy, and one semi-serious.
The semi-serious story happens to be the best one, involving architect Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) who invite depressed actress Monica (Ellen Page) to stay with them. Jack quickly develops a sexual fascination with the shallow and manipulative Monica, even though he knows that he is already with the far better choice. All of this is observed and commented on by John (Alec Baldwin), with the interesting implication that Jack and John and may be one and the same and the whole event just a memory of the older man. Eisenberg has never been one of my favorite actors but I was impressed by his performance here.
Most of the other stories are pleasant, but little more. Allen himself appears in one about a singer (opera star Fabio Armiliato) who is only talented in the shower, an interesting idea which is nowhere near as funny as it should be. In another, Roberto Benigni stars as an average Joe who suddenly becomes a celebrity, an episode that does not take advantage of the surreal opportunities it would seem to indicate. The worst features Alessandra Mastronardi and Alessandro Teberi as a conservative couple who begin to question their relationship. In addition to not being funny, this plotline is a bit disturbing as Allen seems to argue that the best way to spice up a marriage is to commit adultery.
Should you see this movie? Yes…if you like Woody Allen, but that’s pretty much the only reason. There is a pleasure in entering into Allen’s fantasy world, where the characters all have impeccable artistic tastes (well, aside from Monica, who likes Ayn Rand), and worry endlessly about love, but never money. This is not the place to start if you’ve never seen an Allen film, but if you are already a fan, you don’t need my advice anyway-Woody’s come to town.
3.0 out 4