“To Rome With Love,” Woody Allen’s latest stamp on his European work visa, is a film not without its charms. But they are so few that the film’s raison d’etre stares you in the face for a solid 100 minutes.
It’s location location location, a lame collection of recycled bits and characters cut and pasted to fit that location.
You always feel bad for the all-star cast of an Allen picture that fails. Alec Baldwin has probably been waiting his whole life for Allen to call. Young players from Alison Pill and Ellen Page to Jesse Eisenberg and Greta Gerwig were probably thrilled to pieces to be invited.
And yet this multi-character farce has little that’s farcical about it, little that’s even funny. A comical celebration of adultery in the country where they take cheating seriously, “To Rome” has lovely Roman scenery, a generous scattering of Italian actors and a set of non-interlocking stories so feeble you know they were ideas Allen whacked out of better films.
Eisenberg, of “The Social Network,” plays an architecture student living in Rome with his girlfriend (Gerwig), who has invited her best pal, an out-of-work actress (Ellen “Juno” Page) to visit, knowing that “every man who meets her falls in love with her.” Baldwin is a world-wise architect who meets them and spends the rest of the movie as an imaginary voice of reason in scene after scene as he tries to keep boy from cheating on girl.
Pill (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) is the cliched American tourist who falls in love with an Italian (Flavio Parenti), a humorless lawyer for Italy’s oppressed. When her parents (Allen and Oscar nominee Judy Davis) show up, Dad, a recently retired opera company director, does some vintage kvetching about the future son-in-law’s prospects.
“Don’t you want our little Hayley to marry into Euro-trash?”
Then Dad discovers that the boy’s dad (Fabio Armiliato) is not just a mortician but a shower-singing tenor who could set the world afire — if he could find a way to sing with a shower nozzle dousing him. That’s actually the most daft bit of “To Rome With Love,” and one that works.
Then here are the Italian episodes, about which, the less said the better. A young couple (Alessandra Mastronardi, Alessandro Tiberi) get separated in the city, leading him into the arms of a prostitute (Penelope Cruz, va-va-voomed up) and her to the hotel suite of a randy/portly Italian movie star.
And Oscar winner Roberto Benigi shows up playing a cubicle drone who suddenly and inexplicably becomes a media darling in the nation that invented “paparazzi.” He’s pursued by models and actresses, interviewed about what he had for breakfast. Why? To make a comment on the vapidity of Italy’s obsession with “celebrity.”
It’s amazing how many different sorts of comedies and dramas Allen has been able to get out of his invitation-only all-star “formula” over the years. But when they don’t work — and “To Rome With Love” doesn’t — it’s often for the same reasons.
There’s always some poor actor who decides to do an impersonation of Allen’s nervous little man (here, he’s Alessandro Tiberi, doing Allen in Italian). The dialogue sounds as if Allen hasn’t been out of doors in the past 30 years. The characters are stale stage archetypes. And the all-star cast he has rounded up to play the parts often recognize this. You can feel the boredom behind Alec Baldwin’s eyes as he drones through, “I see it so clearly, now. But I’m older.”
The players dare not deviate from the maestro’s script — “I, too, want to see the ancient ruins.” Who talks like that? Characters out of some arch 1930s stage comedy.
Allen’s work ethic means that he’s always in the middle of prepping his next film when this one comes out. But that’s how “Scoop,” “Hollywood Ending, “Whatever Works,” “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” “Melinda and Melinda,” “Anything Else” and “Deconstructing Harry,” among other dogs in his crowded kennel, came about.
National treasure or not, you kind of wish the Wood-man would take two or three years between movies, find a collaborator who’s a little more hip and strive not to just make another movie, but to make every movie count.What others are saying
•Peter Rainier, Christian Science Monitor:
“It’s all rather sweet but instantly evanescent.”
•Clay Steakley, Paste:
“The film’s only serious weakness is that some of the vignettes are so engaging that leaving them for slighter storylines is occasionally disappointing. Bubbly, funny, surprisingly bittersweet, ‘To Rome With Love’ is simply well-crafted storytelling.”
•Christopher Orr, the Atlantic: “As in ‘Midnight in Paris,’ Allen is intent on flattering his audience by telling them things they already know. (Hemingway liked to fight!) Here again, he name-drops promiscuously (Strindberg, Pound, Dostoyevsky) but generally to no particular end. An observation that Alec Baldwin’s character makes of Ellen Page’s — ‘She knows one line from every poet, just enough to fake it’ — serves as an admirable critique of the film as a whole.”