With To Rome with Love, Woody Allen continues his grand tour of European cities, following in the footsteps of Match Point (London), Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris. He also appears in front of the camera for the first time in over five years, casting himself against type as an Italian lothario (just kidding “ in a shock twist he plays a neurotic New York Jew).
To Rome With Love is four stories intertwined. In the first strand Allen’s retired opera director travels to Rome to visit his daughter and her fiancÃ© and on the way discovers a brilliant opera singer who can only perform while in the shower. Elsewhere, Roberto Benigni (the best thing in the film, as is the case with most things he’s in “ see Night On Earth for an example) suddenly becomes a huge celebrity for reasons he simply can’t understand, causing huge confusion on his wonderfully expressive face. Jesse Eisenberg takes on the traditional Woody role, as the young, slightly nerdy young man caught in a love triangle, while newlyweds Alessandro Triberi and Alessandra Mastronardi get tangled up in a mass of misunderstandings with a film star, a mugger and a hooker (Penelope Cruz). As the descriptions suggest, the general tone of the film is light farce and there are some great lines – most of which Allen gives himself. The most successful stories are the first two, which have a lovely surreality to them, with the bizarre and the everyday blending disconcertingly.
Woody Allen has made at least one feature film every year for the last forty years with just a single exception (1976 “ and he made up for it by making Annie Hall in 1977). In recent interviews, he’s admitted that this is almost a compulsion and perhaps this self-created deadline has had a slightly detrimental effect on To Rome With Love. While thoroughly enjoyable, there seems to be no compelling reason why these particular stories needed to be told, or why they should be told together. The individual narratives never overlap, and there’s no thematic connection between them. Instead, they feel a little like a bunch of nice ideas that in themselves weren’t sufficiently fleshed out to make a full feature and so have been put together in order for Woody to get his annual movie in the bag. It’s also problematic that stories which last weeks are intercut with stories that take place in a single day, so there’s not even a chronological sense to the events.
Another minor complaint is that while To Rome With Love is set up as a love letter to Rome, there’s no sense that Allen knows the city well “ much of the movie is shot in and around the main tourist sites that those of us who’ve never been to the Eternal City recognise from films and television. These sites are shot well enough, but there’s nothing startling to make anyone look at them anew.
That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty to enjoy in To Rome With Love. As ever, Allen has put together a fantastic cast “ actors not already mentioned include Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page and Greta Gerwig, and they all put in strong performances. All in all, the film is good fun, and an average Woody Allen film is better than a lot of people’s best efforts. However it is all a bit lightweight and unsubstantial. No Annie Hall or Manhattan by a long stretch, but on the plus side, no Melinda and Melinda either.