Even on a bad day, Woody Allen proves himself to be perpetually inventive and endlessly romantic.
Woody Allen’s infatuation with youth and mildly inappropriate eroticism has kept him busy throughout his career, although part of his genius lies in his prolific nature and his intellectual vulnerability. This is why not every movie he writes can be another Annie Hall. To Rome With Love definitely sits at the less enchanting end of his canon, but it still buzzes with enough vitality and funny ideas to stand out from your average romantic comedy, even if it doesn’t distinguish itself from other Woody Allen movies.
Like a number of his recent films it takes place in a European city; in this case an ethereally beautiful Rome in which Romans, not Italians, are said to live. A quartet of truncated stories are told, none of which interweave directly, even if they share themes.
There’s Alec Baldwin’s ageing architect who encounters Jesse Eisenberg’s young student, vicariously involving himself in the love life of this man and appearing almost spectrally in several scenes as Eisenberg’s character is spirited away from his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) by a pretentious but enchanting actress (Ellen Page). Then there’s the retired opera director (played by Allen himself) who finds that the father of his daughter’s Italian fiancé has an excellent and undiscovered talent for belting out a tune, with silly consequences.
A farce involving Penelope Cruz’s feisty prostitute and a slightly laboured plot about an average Italian man who, for no reason whatsoever, becomes a celebrity, are the other two strands of the film’s narrative.
It’s a pleasure to see Allen acting again, particularly since he’s performing his own material. The rest of the performances vary in quality; Alec Baldwin seems to have a tough time getting into his role, while Roberto Benigni is excellent as the fleetingly famous and often bewildered clerk Leopoldo.
To Rome with Love is over long and shares many similarities with other films from Allen’s recent past. While it may not match Vicky Christina Barcelona or Midnight in Paris, it is by no means a washout. You’ll have some fun and Allen will be able to make a new film next year, which might be a masterpiece.