First there was New York. Then there were London, Barcelona, Paris, and now there is Rome. Woody Allen’s love for the urban landscape has taken him on a Euro-trip in the past few years, with each film becoming a love note to the unique magic of a particular city.
To Rome With Love is Woody’s love letter to the Eternal City. This time Woody has decided to write a series of vignettes with no link between them other than that they all take place in Rome.
Greta Gerwig, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page and Alec Baldwin star in the film’s strongest segment, about a young architect named Jack (Eisenberg), who inadvertently falls for his girlfriend’s (Gerwig) best friend – a neurotic pseudo-hipster played by Page. Baldwin plays an older version of Jack, named John. Also an architect, John once lived in Rome. He is something of a ghostly figure who gives Jack love advice, or more precisely tries to stop him from sleeping with his girlfriend’s BFF. For Allen devotees, the character is reminiscent of the one Baldwin played in Allen’s 1990 film Alice. It is a typical Woody segment, filled with nervous young intellectuals trapped in a love triangle (remember Manhattan?) and the energy between the actors is filled with, well, nerves and anxiety. Baldwin is a scene-stealer, obviously, and the provider of the best one-liners in the film (“Monica. Even her name is hot.”).
Another vignette stars Alisson Pill, Judy Davis, Flavio Parenti, famed tenor Fabio Armiliato, and Woody himself. When Hayley’s (Pill) dad (Allen) finds out that his future son-in-law’s father (Armiliato) can sing like Pavarotti in the shower, he immediately sets out to make him the biggest (or cleanest) opera singer in the world, much to everyone else’s dismay. It’s the most random of the Roman stories, but it’s a hoot to see Woody play his usual shtick again, six years after we last saw him in Scoop.
The worst episode in the film stars the otherwise wonderful Roberto Benigni as a regular Joe who wakes up at seven every morning, has toast, shaves, and goes to his cubicle where he ogles the boss’ secretary. Until one day he is jumped by reporters who want to know what he had for breakfast. Poking fun at reality TV, this episode is funny at first, but drags way too long and becomes dreary.
The film redeems itself with a fresh vignette starring Penelopé Cruz and Italian youngsters Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi. Tiberi and Mastronardi star as a young and shy newly-married couple, Antonio and Milly, who once in Rome, learn a thing or two about the game of love. Milly is seduced by a robber (Riccardo Scamarcio) and Antonio gets a lesson from a call-girl (Cruz, as fierce as ever).
Overall, To Rome With Love is a bit stale, and definitely not as fresh or as original as last year’s Midnight in Paris. However, the cinematography by Darius Khondji (who also shot Midnight) is stunning and makes Rome seem even more beautiful than it already is. The Eternal City is the canvas for a series of random love stories, and it is what stands out. If you’re a Woody Allen fan you will love it precisely because the film has all the ingredients the director always uses. It’s not major Woody, but it’s still Woody.
By Radina Papukchieva