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To Rome With Love
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by Jay Seaver

"Woody Allen gets another stamp on his passport."
3 stars

I'm not saying Woody Allen is exactly running a scam in his golden years, but he has worked out a way to get international financiers to send him to a different beautiful city every year, and all he has to do is produce a movie with a cast of actors drawn by the reputation he has built over decades to work for a fraction of their usual price. And, hey, he's still got enough of the talent that built that reputation that the result isn't exactly a disaster.

To Rome with Love is a set of four or five stories mostly connected by being set in the Eternal City: In one thread, Tourist Hayley (Alison Pill) and native Roman lawyer Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) meet and fall in love, but the story is how her father Jerry (Allen), a retired A&R man, discovers how Michelangelo's father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) has an incredible singing voice and wants to share it with the world. Elsewhere, opinionated office worker Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) is suddenly the most famous man in Rome, and the relationship between two American students (Greta Gerwig and Jesse Eisenberg) is threatened by the arrival of her friend Monica (Ellen Page), with a man who had once been in his situation (Alec Baldwin) serving as a chorus. And, finally, newlyweds Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) arrive from the country to work for the family business, but when Milly gets lost, a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) appears in his room and has to take Milly's place.

Why is there a call girl in Antonio's room? Never explained, and it's not the only place where Allen is fairly vague. Despite the film cross-cutting between stories and not being set apart by title cards or some similar device, To Rome with Love is at heart four smaller movies that have been stitched together, and it causes some problems. Though the various stories have a similar somewhat off-kilter tone, their omissions and quirks seem more exposed when each is effectively stretched to the length of a feature. The switching from one story to another also makes for an odd timeline - one story is apparently playing out over weeks, another over days, and yet another over hours. All seem to finish somewhat climactically, as well, and four finishes of that variety make for a very muted ending.

Still, the film works a lot more often than you might think given those issues, in part because while Allen is still displaying a tendency to slap the ambitious down, he provides soft landings more often than not. He's working in the same whimsical, occasionally fantastical mode as last year's Midnight in Paris, and it provides him a platform for a few good gags. Allen, despite his other recent failings, has always been able to write and tell a joke, and To Rome with Love is peppered with moments that remind the audience of this. They're quick bits that don't necessarily need a lot of context (though the broader contexts of the lovely absurdity of fame, difficulty of aging, and inevitability of the eye wandering are clear enough), and as a result work fairly well.

Having a good cast helps some, too. It's such a large ensemble with each player plugged into just one story that it's hard for any to really stand out, but each of the four Allen-surrogates (Tiberi, Eisenberg, Benigni, and Allen himself) does a fine job of taking Woody Allen material and giving it his own voice. Judy Davis and Penelope Cruz make good foils for Allen and Eisenberg, and while Alessandra Mastronardi's Milly spends a fair amount of time confused and star-struck, she grows into a favorite by the end of the movie. Fabio Armiliato - a tenor in a relatively rare non-opera role - actually does one of the best jobs of presenting a complete, charming character to the audience. The biggest bumps come in the Eisenberg/Page scenes - Alec Baldwin's sarcasm is too self-aware, and while Page is deliberately cast against type as the femme fatale of the story, she still comes across as the quirky Ellen Page character, an acquired taste rather than an irresistible draw.

Like many recent Woody Allen movies, this one is moments of classic Woody buried in an average (or somewhat lesser) medium - though with a beautiful backdrop. Allen has paid for his trip, at least, with a movie that's pleasant enough even if it doesn't belong with his best.

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originally posted: 07/17/12 03:10:16
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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

1/19/13 mr.mike A few laughs but does'nt add up to much. 3 stars
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  22-Jun-2012 (R)
  DVD: 15-Jan-2013


  DVD: 15-Jan-2013

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