By this point in his career, Woody Allen’s European migration has visited many popular tourist destinations: London, Paris and Barcelona for example. Now, it is Rome’s turn. Returning to a somewhat fantasy narrative, Allen’s 42nd feature To Rome with Love enters a grouping of films that include The Purple Rose of Cairo and Midnight in Paris to a lesser extent.
Four vignettes are presented through a series of characters and situations. Unlike Robert Altman films, the characters are not connected through relationships, but rather by proximity and location. There is a blend of locals and foreigners, but each character is not what he/she seems.
There’s Jerry (Allen) and Phyllis (Judy Davis) who come to Rome to meet their daughter’s (Alison Pill) fiancé (Flavio Parenti) and family. Jerry is a retired opera director who hears his daughter’s to-be father-in-law, Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), singing like an opera star in the shower. The only problem is that the shower is the only place he can reach the operatic notes. Known for his risqué artistic decisions, Jerry finds a solution to bring Giancarlo onto the stage.
Meanwhile, newlyweds Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) are disrupted and separated after Milly cannot find her way back to their hotel. Anna (Penelope Cruz) mistakenly bursts into Antonio’s hotel room as a “gift”, but before she can exit, Antonio’s family arrives and Anna is passed off for Milly. Aimless and lost, Milly wanders onto a movie set where she swoons over an unattractive (but famous) movie star.
Least interesting of all, architecture student Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) is seduced by his girlfriend’s (Greta Gerwig) actress friend Monica (Ellen Page) who comes to stay with them. Jack and Monica are both obnoxious characters, but neither accomplished actor performs with anything else in mind. These flat, dry and uninteresting characters take important time away from the rest of the film. Even Alec Baldwin can’t salvage their story as he drips in as a cosmic interloper.
Rounding out the troupe, Roberto Benigni stars as Leopoldo who suddenly becomes famous overnight. He has done nothing to earn this fame. Leopoldo is simply famous for being famous, and the rest of the film sees his comic struggle and later addiction to the attention.
To Rome with Love is as much about appearances as anything else. Giancarlo’s singing facial contortions require an alternative route to achieving success as a tenor. Even the unappealing are concerned with appearances as Jack and Monica feign an intellectual intelligence to flirtatiously appeal to each other while in conversation. Milly’s story proves that fame’s disgusting appearance is still much more flattering than poverty’s handsome form.
Absurd and farcical, the greatest moments of To Rome with Love come with Benigni and Allen’s stories. The fickle finger of fame and its quick expiry are revealed with inventive silliness, and who better than Roberto Benigni to project such an image. Casting himself in an age appropriate role, Allen is very amusing as the unsettling retiree. His return to the screen after a six year absence is best felt with a supporting role, rather than as the hero. To Rome with Love is not his finest work, especially come off the heels of the Oscar winning Midnight in Paris. But a new Woody Allen film every year is still something to look forward to.
To Rome with Love is in Australian cinemas == through Hopscotch Films.