Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Roberto Benigni, Judy Davis, Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Date: September 14th
Europe has been kind to Woody Allen. A misfiring career in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s was revitalised with a brief sabbatical trip to London. The trilogy of movies produced there—Match Point, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger and Scoop—while far from his most accomplished work, did take Allen out of a creatively zapping comfort zone of the Big Apple. London led him to Barcelona, and then Paris where he enjoyed critical acclaim and his most commercially successful picture ever. Now finding himself in the Italian capital, he has once again struck Euro gold with To Rome With Love, a humourous multi-arced postcard of Caput Mundi.
Skewing a conventional storyline for a quad-narrative, all loosely weaved around the notion of fame and celebrity, To Rome With Love follows the exploits of an operatic mortician, an up-tight newly wed couple and a vivacious prostitute, an overnight celebrity and an architect revisiting his former Roman haunts. With it, Allen has put together a taut and farce laden romp that makes for the most fun he’s been in years.
The casting of Roberto Benigni is both inspired and baffling in that he and Allen have never worked together before. His bumbling clerk Leopoldo, who is transformed overnight into Italy’s most famous household name, is a marvel to witness, from mild mannered family man to womanizer and back, all captured through Benigni’s manic and slapstick mannerisms. Fabio Armiliato, too, is a treasure as the undertaker turned shower soprano through the scheming machinations of Allen’s former opera director. Capable of motor-mouthing his co-stars off screen, Woody reigns it in these moments allowing Armiliato and his nonplussed wife to steal the scenes. As a hooker who’s spent more time on her back than Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, Cruz channels some of the raw sexual energy from Vicky Cristina Barcelona into a hilarious performance as she plays faux-bride to a Roman upper-classer.
To Rome‘s main gaffe is its least Italian drenched storyline with its youthful indie American cast, Woody meets mumblecore perhaps. Jesse Eisenberg plays Jack, the archetypal neurotic Allen character, who lives with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig). A friend of Sally’s, Monica (Ellen Page), comes to visit, causing Jack to struggle with advice about her from his future-self, manifested in the guise of Alec Baldwin. This arc falters continuously from its egregious misuse of Gerwig (a mere MacGuffin to introduce Page), its snobbish name dropping of Dostoyevsky, Yeats and the concept of Ozymandias Melancholia, and an unbelievable and slightly androgynous Page as a femme fatale. Halting an otherwise fluid film, it highlights the worst indulgent aspects of his filmmaking.
Funded entirely by Italian financiers, Rome, like with Paris before, is framed with tender lingering sepia drenched shots that may result in frantic flight searching not long after the credits roll. Cliché as it sounds, it may well be the star. No landscape or site is unvisited, aromas of food literally seep through the screen and the sense of history crashing into the present is stunning. More a love letter than film. Does anyone know how flexible the budget is for a Discover Ireland ad?