by Michelle McGlynn
Woody Allen is an incredible talent. He has managed to release a feature film every year since 1969, with the exception of one or two. Some of these films are amazing and became instant classics, some of them do not reach such heights. Last year’s release Midnight in Paris falls into the former category while new film To Rome With Love belongs to the latter. As the title suggests, this film is a love letter to the Eternal City complete with opera and many shots of the Trevi fountain.
To Rome With Love consists of four different stories which never interlink, the only thing which binds them together is their location. One story tells the tale of American girl Hayley (Alison Pill) who while on a trip to Rome meets the love of her life, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). When they become engaged it is time for Alison’s parents to travel to Rome to meet the man their daughter is to marry and his parents. Hayley’s father Jerry (Woody Allen) is a retired opera director. When he hears Michelangelo’s father Giancarlo (real-life tenor Fabio Armiliato) singing in the shower, he is insistant that he must bring this voice to the stage. The fact that Giancarlo can only sing in the shower is not enough to halt Jerry’s plans.
A newlywed couple travel to Rome from Pordenone to begin a new life together. Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and his bride Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) have to meet with Antonio’s relatives who have set him up with a well paying job. Determined to make the best impression, Milly heads out to get her hair done. But in a series of mishaps she becomes lost and cannot contact her husband. As luck would have it she comes face to face with her favourite actor (Antonio Albanese). Meanwhile her husband becomes the accidental recipient of a hooker, Anna (Penelope Cruz). When his family walk in on him and Anna in a compromising position, Antonio feels his only choice is to try to pass Anna off as his bride.
Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) is an aspiring architect based in Rome with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig). Life is simple and they are content with their lot. When Sally’s friend Monica (Ellen Page) comes to stay with them for a while, Sally cannot help but be nervous. It seems that men are cannot resist falling helplessly in love with Monica. Jack reassures Sally that he will always be in love with her and her only. At first sight, Monica does not appear to be all that special and Jack relaxes. But Monica proves to be a talented seductress. John (Alec Baldwin) is an accomplished architect who seems to be able to appear at will. At times only Jack can see him, other times he is visible to all. John attempts to act as an advisor to Jack, warning him of the dangers of falling for a woman like Monica.
Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) is an average business man. He goes to work every day and comes home to his wife and his two children. There is nothing exceptional about him. Yet, one day he finds himself the centre of attention as he walks out his door only to be bombarded by paparazzi. The people of Rome are fascinated by him. They want to know every detail of his life and ask his opinion on almost every matter. Leopoldo tries to work out why this has happened to him while attempting to deal with the perks and drawbacks of becoming an overnight celebrity.
Of the four stories presented to us by Allen, there are two highlights. The farcical nature of Jerry’s efforts to coax a star out of a man who can only sing while in the shower is thoroughly enjoyable. While the love triangle of Sally, Jack and Monica is made much more enjoyable by the inclusion of John. Once you resign yourself to the magic realism of John’s appearances, you are free to enjoy the fantastic dialogue that is brought forth. The tale of the newlyweds is also somewhat farcical and is quite enjoyable. While Leopoldo’s story feels unnecessary and tired. The exploration of celebrity life and the notion of being famous just for being famous has already been examined in a much more entertaining manner by Allen in Celebrity.
Allen, as always, never has a problem persuading the best actors to appear in his films whether in a starring role or a brief appearance. The cast he has assembled here supply more than enough talent for any director to work with. There are some familiar faces. Judy Davis for example plays Allen’s onscreen wife and is no stranger to his films as this is her fifth Allen movie.
With so many characters and stories at play in this film which runs just under two hours, there is not much room to flesh out every character. Alison Pill and Greta Gerwig are underused here despite their talents. Penelope Cruz is content in her role as the vixen. Jesse Eisenberg does not bring anything extraordinary to his role. Woody Allen and Judy Davis have great chemistry, while Allen produces the performance we expect of him. Opera tenor Fabio Armiliato gives a fantastic comedic performance. Ellen Page and Alec Baldwin are without doubt the two most enjoyable performances of the film. Page plays the role of a pseudointellectual, spouting out names and quotes constantly, with finesse. She sparkles as the unexpected seductress. Baldwin’s appearances are brief but he delivers some of the funniest lines of the film in the way that only he can. Allen is wise not to overdo it though as too much would strip much of its humour.
The constant back and forth may be too much for some, but if you can make your peace with it you are in for a delightful watch. This may not be another masterpiece added to Allen’s collection, but the fact remains that a mediocre Woody Allen film is still better than most other films.