Sean K. Cureton

Woody Allen Returns After Last Summer’s Midnight in Paris with a Film That’s Less Than Award Worthy

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on July 18, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Theatrical Poster


To Rome With Love
Directed by Woody Allen
2 ½ out of 4 stars

Woody Allen’s new comedy is something that this reviewer has been looking forward to for a while now. After last summer’s Midnight in Paris, Allen seemed to be on a creative high, and anything else that he might make following such a wonderful film could only be anticipated with the highest of hopes and expectations. In addition, the cast for this film was almost too good to be true, making for just another sign of something that was sure to be brilliant and funny. After all, who wouldn’t want to see a film that boasts performances from such beloved indy darlings as Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, and Ellen Page? Unfortunately, To Rome With Love doesn’t quiet live up to the expectations set for it by Allen’s last theatrical release, and its talented and multi-faceted cast couldn’t quiet save this film from becoming just one of the many Woody Allen films that are soon forgotten.

To Rome With Love is composed of four vignettes, which are all supposed to take place simultaneously within Rome, which is professed to hold too many tales to count, or so the unnamed policeman tells us at the start of the film. One of these vignettes is brilliant, one of them is entertaining but flawed, one of them is distractingly outlandish, and the other just doesn’t quiet seem to work.

The best vignette is about an everyday working schmuck, played to great comic effect by Oscar winner Roberto Benigni (1997’s Life is Beautiful), who suddenly finds himself in the eye of the paparazzi. The hilarious interviews that ensue about things so trivial as wearing boxers or briefs and what he ate that morning that are posed to Benigni’s character work ingeniously to provide a tongue-in-cheek miniature satire of Hollywood celebrity and the various pitfalls and personal vanities that come along with becoming a well known individual.

The second best vignette tells the story of young architect Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig), and their fortuitous meeting with Sally’s friend Monica (Ellen Page), a currently out of work actress, who soon becomes romantically involved with Jack behind Sally’s back. This vignette is also accompanied by a character named John, a much older and well known architect played by Alec Baldwin, whom Jack meets on his way home and brings along to allow John to see his old neighborhood from when he lived in Rome as a younger man, much like Jack is doing now.

John’s presence within the scenes of the film that this story entails, however, become increasingly confusing, as John’s presence is obviously only meant to provide a source of world-wearied guidance for Jack. Nevertheless, at times it is unclear as to whether or not John is really there, or simply a conscience for Jack that is made visible for the sake of the audience alone, much like when Woody Allen’s character in Play It Again, Sam sees a shadowy Humphrey Bogart figure who eggs Allen on during moments of sexual congress. Unlike the Bogart ghost, however, Baldwin’s character is obviously real to a certain extent, since Page’s and Gerwig’s characters can each see him in certain scenes; but the fact that for most of the scenes of the film in which this vignette takes place Baldwin’s character seems to be only heard and seen by Eisenberg, this vignette falls apart and becomes more confusing and bewildering than simply comedic, which holds it back from boosting the film’s overall quality.

Finally, the last two vignettes fail primarily because of ridiculous plot concepts and convenient situations for the characters involved. One of them involves a character played by Woody Allen who is intent on making his daughter’s father-in-law a world-renowned Opera singer, and the other is about a young, naïve couple and their individual experiences of sexual awakening. The Allen vignette is entertaining albeit ridiculous, as the father-in-law in question is only able to sing in the shower, and so Allen arranges a show in which the father-in-law may perform whilst bathing. The young couple, meanwhile, are separated from each other during most of their sequences of the film, with the husband (Alessandro Tiberi) enjoying the company of a prostitute that he did not pay for (Penelope Cruz), and the wife (Alessandra Mastronardi) being whisked away by a well known Italian actor and then a dashing young burglar. Both of these vignettes are funny, but each of them seems to be too dependent on the absurdist and bawdy humor of each of their respective plots, which makes them feel more like parts of a typical mainstream Hollywood comedy, lessening the impact of the film as a whole even further.

Woody Allen’s new film is funny, as it should be. However, after last summer’s Oscar nominated Midnight in Paris, To Rome With Love is a huge let down, and never quiet seems to find its rhythm, largely because of its multiple-plot structure. While this kind of structure has worked in the past for numerous other films (see 2003’s Love Actually or last summer’s Crazy, Stupid, Love.) it doesn’t quiet work here. It might have been more interesting to see an entire movie about Jesse Eisenberg’s character, but since it has to share screen time with three other individual tales within this film, it never quiet finds its voice and ends up feeling sort of unfulfilled and anticlimactic, which is kind of how this entire film felt when the credits began to roll.

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