1—Everyone has affairs. How does it affect discourse?
2—Here’s how to get away with murder. Now you’ll be tortured by the meaninglessness of the universe.
3—I have a fairly literary existential crisis. I will explore it through a magical deus ex machina.
To Rome with Love is very much an example of number one. Very few characters in this movie escape with their relationships unsullied. Thankfully, it’s not the only thing Allen is dissecting here, it splits the bill with an examination of our species’ obsession with celebrities.
There are four stories at play in To Rome with Love: One: A retired theatrical producer, Jerry(Allen, Scoop), and his wife (Judy Davis, Marie Antionette) fly to Rome to meet their daughter’s (Alison Pill, Midnight in Paris) Italian fiancé, but when Jerry hears his new paternal in-law sing opera in the shower, he’s convinced he must get him onto the stage. Two: A successful American architect (Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock) revisits his old stomping ground in Rome and relives a time when as a young man (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network) he fell for a passionate tornado of a girl (Ellen Page, Inception) when she comes to visit his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig, Damsels in Distress) whom he lives with. Three: A very normal Italian clerk (Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful) becomes an overnight celebrity when the media decide to focus their attention on him. He does his best to live a normal life now that he’s famous but soon finds the attention of throngs of adorning young women too much to resist. And four: A pair of young newlyweds move to Rome to start a new life, innocent circumstances immediately separate them and through misunderstanding and coincidence the young man ends up in the care of a gorgeous prostitute (Penelope Cruz, Vicky Christina Barcelona) and the young woman ends up on the arm of her favorite male movie star. I’m pretty sure you know what’s going to happen there.
Historically speaking, Woody Allen follows every smash hit he makes with something really REALLY awful, either boring, sickeningly pretentious, or a flat out flop. He followed Annie Hall with Interiors, Hannah and Her Sisters with Radio Days, Crimes and Misdemeanors with Alice, Bullets Over Broadway with Mighty Aphrodite (I maintain that it’s not good), Small Time Crooks with The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and Match Point…I can barely even stand it…He followed Match Point with Scoop. So really, it’s kind of a miracle that To Rome with Love is as palatable as it is given that it’s coming after Midnight in Paris.
To Rome with Love isn’t a great movie, but it’s all right. The film begins and ends with random Italians telling the audience that Rome is a city full of stories. I guess so that Allen can tell these four different vignettes without having to connect them. I would have been fine without the intrusive Italian traffic cop at the beginning. Sure, his breaking the fourth wall right out of the gate clues me in to the fact that we’re more in the realm of satire and exploring themes than in a window to the real world, but he put me on edge right away. It made the beginning of every story feel overly written, like the actors were paying more attention to annunciating their words in a precise order than they were in getting into their characters. After all the setups fall into place though, the rest of the ride is an easy one to take.
The storyline that follows Alec Baldwin’s sardonic examination of the romantic misadventures of his past self and the women involved in his life is particularly interesting. Those scenes are usually really uncomfortable in Allen’s movies because you can see the mistakes the characters are making, but they’re made A LOT more fun with Baldwin telling the characters what the audience is thinking to their face. That’s the kind of rule-bending character examination I love to see Allen do. It was also nice to see Woody Allen play that familiar stuttering character again, wry intellectual asides and all. And Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page might be the closest pairing to Allen and Keaton I’ve seen in one of his movies yet. Or maybe they just wore the same clothes really well.
It was great to see Roberto Benigni on screen again and his storyline of an average shmoe being famous for being famous was a fun way for Allen to let us know what a fickle and illogical thing fame is. But his final word on the subject is something the entire internet generation will have no problem relating to: Life can be cruel whether you’re a celebrity or you’re poor and unknown. But of the two, it’s better to be a celebrity.
My personal opinion: The locations were nothing less than astounding. I want to go to Italy right now. As storytelling, not a bad rental (can I still say that now that video stores are extinct? Not a bad download?), but I’ll barely remember it by the time his next one comes out a year from now. –Jake Jarvi