I’ll just say I’m a Woody Allen fan. I own every one of his films on DVD with exception of Curse of the Jade Scorpion – let’s face it, it’s an unfunny piece of shit. I try to see every one of his films in the theater and fortunately for me, living in Bloomington, Indiana, doesn’t keep that from happening. For some reason, every film of his makes it here to at least the local AMC (which dubs Allen’s films “arthouse”). I was lucky to see To Rome with Love at the world-class venue, the Indiana University Cinema, which is the best thing to happen to Bloomington since Breaking Away was filmed here.
Allen is the pure embodiment of consistency – he has made at least one film each year since 1982 and at 77 years old, he’s still going strong (he ain’t no Manoel de Oliveira, but who is?). His newest effort is typical Allen – characters stuck in many quirky dilemmas revolving around love with their ability to win or lose it hanging in the balance. Allen centers his film around a few couples – a newlywed couple Milly and Antonio (Alessandra Mastronardi and Allesandro Tiberi) and who move to Rome to start a new life together pending a job from his wealthy uncle, an American architectural student Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig), and another American student Hayley (Alison Pill, who rocked in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and a left-wing Italian lawyer Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti).
This film runs long for an Allen film, which are normally around 90 minutes, at almost two hours and you can feel it. Some of the story lines run past their freshness. Unfortunately, the Jesse Eisenberg narrative is the weakest of three, even though Sally (Ellen Page from Juno) was inserted as a new love interest. Greta Gerwig, who is so special in Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress, is criminally underused. Her bright charm is so muted and Allen made her look dumpy. Shame, really. The only part that is enjoyable in this storyline is Alec Baldwin showing up (in spirit) as Eisenberg’s devil’s advocate.
The Antonio-Milly thread allows Allen’s sexual comedic talents to shine. When small-town Milly gets lost in Rome, things go awry. Her shy husband (who was a virgin when they married) is confused for another man and a hooker, Anna (played so wonderfully HOT by Penelope Cruz), shows up in his hotel room just prior to an important meeting with his virtuous uncle who is to give him a job. He has to pretend that Anna is his wife throughout the day. His wife, still lost, later ends up on the set of a film and is introduced to her favorite actor and goes back to his hotel room. As you can guess, shenanigans involving both parties ensue. The best surprise of this plot line is seeing Ornella Muti again. I hadn’t seen her since her turn in the ever awesome Flash Gordon (1980).
The final thread (Hayley/Michelangelo) yields some funny moments as we see Woody being Woody as his character Jerry, a former classical music-exec and avant-garde opera director, discovers the father of Hayley’s fiancée, Giancarlo (famous tenor Fabio Armiliato), is an amazing opera singer…but only when he’s in the shower. This plot line plays itself out in very funny fashion and is reminiscent of Allen’s earliest work like Take the Money and Run.
The best part bar none, however, did not revolve around these three main narrative pieces, but around Leopoldo Pisanello (played pitch-perfectly as always by Roberto Benigni). Leopoldo one morning starts to go to work when out of the blue he is surrounded by paparazzi and Entertainment Tonight-esque reporters asking him the most inane questions about what he had for breakfast and other thoughts. He is immediately swept up as a beloved “famous” person whose opinion on anything is now valid, revered, important and worthy of news. Allen’s send-up of celebrity and the arbitrariness to whom we ascribe celebrity is hilarious. Leopoldo is given a promotion at work, gets invited to movie premieres and is chased after by beautiful women who want to sleep with him. When he asks what’s he’s done to deserve this, he is told he is “famous for being famous”. Sound familiar Kardashian and Hilton clan, you worthless cultural leeches?
All in all, this film is a middle of the pack release for Mr. Allen. Midnight in Paris was so amazing, the follow-up was bound to be a letdown. And it was somewhat. By trimming the Jack/Sally/Monica plot line, this film would have been more cohesive and funny. I still enjoyed this film and I look forward to Woody’s next project, still untitled, starring my fave Cate Blanchett.