For Woody Allen’s 47th feature film he takes us to Rome, in another ensemble comedy around Europe. However, his usual formula, which proved to be a massive success with last year’s Midnight in Paris, here looks tired and charmless.
Allen plays Jerry, a retired opera director visiting the Italian capital with his wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) to meet their daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) and her fiancee Michelangelo and his family. While the two families are having dinner together, Jerry overhears Michelangelo’s father singing in the shower and pronounces him an opera sensation, only to audition him in front of esteemed critics and find his talent is reserved to the shower cubicle. Overcoming this problem with flourishes of Allen’s age old silliness, a shower cubicle is wheeled on to the theatre stage and the father, played by the internationally famed real-life tenor Fabio Armiliato, performs.
At the other side of Rome, architecture student Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) is on holiday with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) when he meets his architect hero John (Alec Baldwin) and then continues to hear John’s voice/feel his presence long after he leaves him. John’s advice is especially important to Jack when Sally’s neurotic actress friend Monica (Ellen Page) comes to stay, and seduces him.
Meanwhile, young married couple Milly and Antonio arrive in Rome at their hotel, but are separated when Milly goes out to the hairdressers and gets hopelessly lost. A hooker (Penelope Cruz) forces her way into Antonio’s hotel room, but before Antonio can get her to leave, his relatives arrive and Antonio is forced to introduce the hooker as his new wife.
The fourth story is of a regular guy, Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) who is accosted by paparazzi and branded a celebrity for no reason. Reporters follow him everywhere, women drop at his feet and the world is instantly interested in what he’s had for breakfast. An unusual, but likeable little story on the nature of celebrity, with some smart references to great Italian directors like Fellini, Antonioni and De Sica, directors he has always shown his respect to.
Over the past few years, Allen has taken his films to London, Paris, Spain, and now Italy. Although many people argue that his films, which he produces at an incredible yearly rate, have been declining for years, producing some terribly average pictures like Whatever Works (2009) or Anything Else (2003) which may as well be the same film, I personally have enjoyed all his ‘tourist films’ around Europe. Scoop, Match Point, Vicky Christina Barcelona and, Midnight in Paris, all charmed me in usual Allen fashion. However, To Rome with Love felt disjointed, as if Allen had plucked four random stories from his bedside drawer of ideas and thrown them together in a new city. Although some effort was made to use Italian actors, the film still felt thoroughly American as it was peppered with New Yorkers, and globe trotting was here redundant.
The film’s best moments were those with Jesse Eisenberg playing a kind of young Allen; that nervous nerdy guy intimidated by the intensely sexual woman — a character we’ve seen time and time again. Allen, on the other hand, could have reached his last film as an actor. In any case, his films are still amusing and his fans will delight in the situation comedy that he’s perfected.
To Rome with Love is in cinemas now.