Woody Allen continues his European wandering, this time taking on four stories centered around love, infidelity and fame and set in beautiful Rome, la bella città. Only the narrative is so slight and the comedy so unfunny that “To Rome with love” quickly grows tiresome.
This is the first time that Allen has gone in front of the camera in a while and it helps because he gives himself all the jokes that actually hit the mark. In “To Rome” he plays Jerry, a former music director headed to Italy with his wife (Judy Davis) for the marriage of his daughter (Alison Pill) to an Italian lawyer (Flavio Parenti). Upon staying with his new in-laws he finds that the lawyer’s undertaker father (Fabio Armiliato) has a tremendous operatic voice, but, as the joke goes, only in the shower.
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Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) was living contentedly with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) before her hypersexualized actress-friend Monica (a very miscast Ellen Page) tempts him into infidelity. A confusing aspect of this storyline is that Alec Baldwin pops up in the strangest of places to give Jack advice. The condensed storytelling makes Baldwin appear like Jack’s ghostly conscience, except that somehow Monica can see and hear him too–didn’t make much sense.
Roberto Benigni (“Life is Beautiful) plays a clerk who one day wakes up to discover he’s become a media celebrity–it’s like magic.
And, in Roman tale # 4 Penelope Cruz is a call-girl who mistakes a recently married man (Alessandro Tiberi) for her next appointment and winds up being taken for his wife by his uncle whom he’s trying to earn a promotion from. Meanwhile his actual wife (Alessandra Mastronardi) has gotten lost and finds herself being wooed by an Italian movie star (Antonio Albanese).
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The only thing that really stands out here is the background–the city of Rome gets top billing here, from the ruins, beaches, architecture to the Romans themselves. You just wish this story and attending characters would get out of the way as Woody keeps zigzagging between these sitcom-like premises. The shower storyline is a joke that seemed so old my mouth was open more from shock than from laughter. The Jack-Monica subplot basically screams at you where it’s going and plays it about as safe as you can get. If you can laugh at the public being fascinated with Benigni shaving or his wife’s run stockings, then you’ll find your pleasure here. I didn’t. And the Penelope Cruz sequence quickly grows boring whenever she’s not on camera.
Whenever Allen appears in his films surrounding characters tend to morph into versions of him, ubiquitousness adding value to the entertainment. Eisenberg plays a younger, more neurotic Woody Allen, Benigni plays the Italian Woody Allen (an even more annoying version, ironically) and Penelope Cruz plays sexy Woody in a red dress.
Allen, himself the subject of the recent Robert Weide documentary (“Woody Allen: A documentary”) has had successes with the European vacation yarn, “Match Point” and “Midnight and Paris” (his biggest box office success in a quarter century) chief among them, but rather than providing filling comedy his latest effort “To Rome with Love” strikes one as more of an afterthought–or simply an excuse to shoot in a beautiful location. But who’s gonna blame Woody?
Liked what you read? See more movie reviews written by Craig Younkin (he recently wrote about “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Magic Mike”)