Woody Allen takes us on a voyage through Rome, through the eyes of lovers and families.
It has been some time since Woody Allen created a film such as To Rome With Love; a film that feels like a series of short films tied together with a common theme. It is also the first time that Allen has acted in one of his own films since 2006’s Scoop. It seems as though the writer/director has fallen in love with the Italian capital, and sets out to show all the potential that the city has, especially in cases of comedy, absurdity and romance.
Woody Allen plays Jerry, the father of Hayley (Alison Pill). When his daughter falls in love with an Italian man, Jerry and his wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) fly to Italy to meet their daughter’s fiancé. We have seen Woody Allen play this role before; the neurotic but tenacious older man who is determined to regain the glory days of his youth. Allen is fine in the role, and rather amusing; but this was to be expected. Judy Davis compliments Allen in the role as his wife, and balances out his neuroses. Alison Pill, building on her earlier work with Woody Allen in Midnight in Paris, plays the typical ‘daughter’ role that crops up in Woody Allen films. Pill is not given the room to stretch herself that she was given in Midnight in Paris, but she is charming and natural in the role. The story that these actors are involved in; the romance with a touch of opera singing is sweet and funny, and incredibly absurd; the idea of a man only being able to sing in the shower is one that feels familiar to the audience, but brought to it’s logical conclusion, it is very funny.
Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg play older and younger versions of Jack, the same character; an architect reminiscing about his heyday in Rome. Baldwin comments on the romance budding between Eisenberg and his girlfriend’s friend, Monica (Ellen Page). Baldwin’s interjections make a mundane and predictable story enlightened and funny, and Baldwin brings his trademark dry humour to the role. Eisenberg plays a young version of the character who is plagued by insecurities. Ellen Page plays an unlikely sex bomb who throws a spanner in the works of her friend’s relationship. Page excels in the role of a smug and pretentious young woman who is unable to admit that she has any shortcomings. Greta Gerwig is entirely underused in the role as Jack’s girlfriend Sally.
As well as these, there are two Italian stories within the film; Leopoldo (Roberto Begnigni) is an ordinary Italian man who finds himself famous for, apparently, being famous. This storyline is incredibly absurd and, for those of us who were lucky enough to have been at Cannes earlier this year, is slightly reminiscent of Leo Carax’s Holy Motors. Begnigni – a well known Italian film maker – captures the bewilderment of an ordinary man who is thrust into the limelight, and is bereft when it is abruptly snatched away. A newlywed couple (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi) find themselves separated and bewildered by a case of mistaken identity, which leads them to rethink their choice to move to the big city.
Allen returns to examine some of his earlier themes and styles in To Rome With Love and, while the film is funny and entertaining, it is nothing that we haven’t seen before. Midnight in Paris was a touch of genius from the experienced director, but it seems that this love affair with Italy means that Allen has lost some of his previous sparkle. Ellen Page’s Monica is, perhaps, one Allen’s greatest female characters, and there is little doubt that the segment with Page, Baldwin and Eisenberg is the strongest and most entertaining in the film. Where the film suffers, however, is the splintering of the storylines – the timeline of the film seems messy and incoherent – the fact that Allen did not stretch or take any chances with the film and the lack of focus on one prevailing storyline.
In all, To Rome With Love could easily have reached the heights achieved by Midnight in Paris had Allen taken a chance and focussed on the Eisenberg/Badwin/Page triangle… And perhaps included his own odd but interesting storyline as a backdrop to this. However, as it stands, To Rome With Love is messy, incoherent and entertaining, but it does not fulfil the promise of its own potential.