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Overall Rating
3.25

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 30%
Average65%
Pretty Bad: 5%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 2 user ratings


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To Rome With Love
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Buono Sera Mr. Allen"
4 stars

Once thought of as that most quintessential of New York-based filmmakers--a director who wouldn't leave the Five Boroughs even if you held him at gunpoint--Woody Allen has, with the exception of 2009's "Whatever Works," spent the last few years on a cinematic tour of Europe that has seen dispatches from England ("Match Point," "Scoop," "Cassandra's Dream" and "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"), Spain ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona") and France ("Midnight in Paris"). Much of the reason for this sudden shift is crassly economic in nature--Allen's films tend to do better overseas than in America and European-based financing is easier to secure if he shoots the movies there as well--but it cannot be denied that working in new venues seems to have shaken loose the torpor that had been plaguing his work for a while and both critics and audiences alike found themselves responding favorably and in surprisingly large numbers (for Allen anyway) to films like "Match Point," "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and, of course, last year's delightful "Midnight in Paris." With his latest film, "To Rome With Love," he adds Italy to his cinematic passport but to judge from some of the early reviews, it seems that there are a lot of people wishing that he had just cut his trip short instead and come home instead of wasting his time with what they deem to be a substandard effort. Frankly, I am a little baffled because while this is not one of the great works of his career by any means, it is nevertheless perfectly serviceable and frequently amusing to the extent that if it didn't have the unfortunate position of having to immediately follow in the footsteps of a film that is one of his great works, my guess is that many of these same people would be hailing it as a charming return to form.

Part of the problem may be that Allen is utilizing a cinematic narrative form here that has never been especially popular in these parts. Back in the Sixties (a time of tumultuous change), there was a brief vogue for films that consisted of a few short individual stories--sometimes made by one director and sometimes done by a group of filmmakers pooling their talents--that were usually linked together only by some common thematic element. The resulting films were rarely masterpieces but they did allow their directors to cut loose and have a little fun by playing around with stories might not have worked as full-length features but which were perfectly fine at 25 minutes. This concept never really transferred over to America--it is hard enough to get a bunch of competitive directors to agree on lunch, let alone coming together for a movie--and while their have been stabs at this particular approach over the years such as "Twilight Zone-The Movie," "New York Stories" (to which Allen himself contributed a segment), "Four Rooms" and those omnibus efforts with multiple auteurs training their cameras on cities like Paris and New York, they have rarely been successful on either artistic or commercial grounds. However, the short-form narrative is one that has clearly held an appeal for Allen over the years--alongside his feature films, he has written a number of one-act plays and published many short stories in magazines like "The New Yorker" over the years--and it is therefore not surprising that he would accumulate a number of ideas that would play better at a reduced length and with "To Rome With Love," he has finally found a suitable outlet for them.

The film consists of four different vignettes and while it cuts back and forth between them, it blessedly resists any urge to try to tie all of them together as is the wont of most contemporary films featuring multiple narratives. In one, Jesse Eisenberg plays an architecture student whose life of contentment is thrown into upheaval when his live-in girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) invites her best friend, a neurotic man-eating sexpot actress (Ellen Page), to stay with them for a few weeks in circumstances that a mentor of his (Alec Baldwin) instantly recognizes and attempts to warn him against. In another, an innocent newlywed couple from the provinces (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi) arrive to celebrate their honeymoon and meet some distant relatives of his that, if all goes well, will install him in a job that will set them up for life. Alas, they get separated right before the relatives arrive and, through circumstances too convoluted to get into, he is forced to pass off a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) as his wife on a whirlwind tour that takes them on a tour of the Vatican and a company reception where the ersatz bride turns out to be an unexpectedly familiar face. Not to be outdone, his wife is eventually swept onto a movie set and into the arms of her favorite actor (Antonio Albanese), a suave type who just happens to have a hotel room at the ready nearby.

Roberto Benigni--yes, Roberto Benigni--turns up as an utterly ordinary businessman who wakes up one morning to discover that he is the most famous man in all of Rome--the paparazzi pursues his every move, the press breathlessly reports on the most minute details of his day, right down to his breakfast selection, and a seemingly endless array of gorgeous women throw themselves at his feet. The joke, of course, is that he has no idea why he is suddenly the center of the universe. At first, the experience is unnerving but he soon gets used to it until he is forced to confront the inevitable fact that fame and celebrity, especially for those who haven't done anything to earn them in the first place, can be fleeting and that losing them can be worse than never having them in the first place. In the last story, Allen himself, making his fiirst on-screen appearance since 2006's "Scoop," plays an unhappily retired music producer and failed impresario, specializing in weirdo stagings of the classics, who arrives with his wife (Judy Davis) to meet his daughter's fiancee and discovers that the father of the groom (), a simple and unassuming mortician, possesses a stunning voice that was seemingly made to sing the classics. After pestering his future in-law into an audition that he isn't very much interested in and which he more or less bombs anyway, it is revealed that he is only comfortable enough to sing his best when he is taking a shower. This would seem to be an insoluble obstacle but to a guy who once staged a production of "Tosca" set entirely within the confines of a phone booth, this is not necessarily a problem. . .

If I had to hazard a guess, I would suggest that another part of the reason that "To Rome With Love" has not found a lot of love among critics, especially those in Italy, is because while his previous European jaunts have resulted in films in which the new locales have played an important and specific part of the proceedings, there is nothing about the stories that he is presenting here that is intrinsically Italian--with the exception of the locales, a stray Berlusconi joke and the stories involving Benigni and the newlyweds being presented in the language, all four of them could have been set in New York City without any significant change in the proceedings. In essence, while "Midnight in Paris" was a deeply felt love letter to the City of Lights and the spell that it has cast on countless dreamers over the years, "To Rome With Love" is more like a postcard with "Wish You Were Here" randomly scribbled upon it. That said, the money men shouldn't be that disappointed with the end result because while Allen may not have anything particularly substantive to say about Rome, he and cinematographer Darius Khondji certainly know how to visualize all of the beauty on display--ranging from the classical forms of its architecture to the even-more-classical forms of the female populace--in the most luscious ways imaginable. There are some movies where you leave the theater and you want to immediately go to the local music store to by the soundtrack--this is the kind where you want to go immediately to the nearest travel agent to book an immediate voyage and not necessarily a round-trip one either.

As for the stories themselves, there is nothing blazingly original about them--these stories could have easily played in the movies from a half-century ago that this one is emulating with only a few tweaks needed here and there. The one about the architecture student is probably the most familiar of the bunch from a dramatic standpoint and suffers from a bizarre bit of miscasting by asking us to accept the idea of Ellen Page as a sexpot who causes everyone she encounters to succumb to her irresistible erotic vibe. Other than that, though, both Baldwin and Eisenberg are quite good and the way that Allen subtly shifts the perspective of the narrative, so that we are never sure if we are watching an older man reminiscing about a disastrous past fling or a younger man envisioning a mentor figure who will sound off all the reasons for avoid a certain romantic disaster, is intriguing. The story about the newlyweds is so frothy that it barely adheres to the screen but between the easy laughs and the stunning presences of Cruz and Mastronardi, most viewers are unlikely to notice or care too much. Likewise, the Benigni segment is a one-joke premise that doesn't really have much to say about the notion of celebrity that hasn't already been said before (hell, even Allen had more interesting things to say on the subject in "Celebrity" and Lord knows that wasn't exactly a classic by any stretch of the imagination) but the segment is save, shockingly enough, by Benigni , whose amusing and highly physical performance is easily the most endearing and entertaining thing that he has done in a long, long time. As for the segment with Allen, it takes a while for it to get to its central joke but when he finally deploys it, it proves to be more than worth the wait and the sequence is further bolstered by some amusing lines, some nice byplay between Allen and Davis and what I can say in all confidence is probably the most unusual production of "Pagliacci" that you will ever bear witness to in this lifetime.

"To Rome With Love" will not go down as one of the great Woody Allen films and anyone attending it in the hopes of seeing another "Midnight in Paris" are most likely going to come away from it feeling some disappointment. However, consider the fact that Allen has been writing and directing an average of a film a year for the last 45 years--some have been masterpieces, some have been shockingly banal and some, like it or not, fall somewhere in between. This is admittedly an in-betweener but even its biggest critics would have to concede that it never comes close to approaching the depths of such disasters as "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" or "Anything Else." It may not have the grand artistic ambitions of his most important work but to its credit, it never pretends to be a profound achievement either. In the end, this is a film that contains beautiful scenery, some heart-stoppingly gorgeous women, a number of big laughs and no other desire than to send viewers out of the theater with nothing more than smiles on their faces and a subconscious desire to go out for Italian food afterwards. At this point in our current cinematic summer, that is ore than enough for me and I have a feeling that there may be plenty of others who will feel the same way.
.

NOTE: "To Rome With Love" has been given a "R" rating by the MPAA for "some sexual references." This roughly boils down to one use of the f-word as a verb and the sight of Penelope Cruz sashaying about in a tiny dress. Admittedly, the pool of youngsters eager to see a Woody Allen movie instead of any of the blockbusters now in release is presumably quite small but there is nothing here that could possibly damage the psyche. Also, the MPAA are idiots

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=23537&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/29/12 12:40:35
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/30/13 PAUL SHORTT DISJOINTED AND UNCONVINCING DESPITE A GOOD CAST 2 stars
1/19/13 mr.mike A few laughs but does'nt add up to much. 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  22-Jun-2012 (R)
  DVD: 15-Jan-2013

UK
  N/A

Australia
  22-Jun-2012
  DVD: 15-Jan-2013




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