Release Date: September 14, 2012
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz
2011 was a good year for Woody Allen. After a string of critical and commercial flops, he finally struck gold with the nostalgic romantic comedy Midnight in Paris, which has since become the highest grossing film of his career and won him a record-breaking third Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Hot on its heels, Allen is attempting to recreate this success with his latest European travelogue, To Rome With Love. Despite lacking the intelligent wit of his surrealist Parisian adventure, I found the results to be no less charming and a lot of fun.
An ensemble fare, the film interweaves four different tales set in the ancient Italian capital. All completely nonsensical, they never interact with one another but share a number of common themes and motifs. One storyline, for example, involves a talented amateur opera singer who can only sing when he’s in the shower while another sees a nervous businessman forced into pretending a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) is his new wife. Then there’s a strand depicting a burgeoning love-triangle between three young Americans (Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page) – all overseen by a spectral shopping mall architect (Alec Baldwin). A final plotline involves a regular Italian family man (Roberto Benigni) spontaneously swarmed by paparazzi everywhere he goes.
As bizarre as it’s various premises may be, To Rome With Love is easily Allen’s most accessible release in years – a fact that will doubtless offend die-hard fans of his earlier comedic masterpieces, which led him to be considered amongst America’s most preeminent auteurs. Indeed, there’s no denying that the film lacks the subtlety and depth of Annie Hall or Hannah and Her Sisters, with much of the dialogue having been written painfully “on the nose.” Yet somehow this doesn’t seem to matter; it’s steady stream of gags and jaunty pace means that viewers should find themselves continually laughing and never bored.
Of course, all this is not to say that Allen is incapable of providing some perceptive insights. In this instance, he seems keen on highlighting the intoxicating effect of celebrity in the 21st century. For example, famous for simply being famous, Benigni’s Leopoldo despises life in the public eye but desperately craves the attention when it’s suddenly gone. Additionally, the veteran director also isn’t shy about turning his sharp gaze upon his own life: “You equate retirement with death,” Phyllis (Judy Davis) tells her elderly husband, a statement that must be equally as true of himself as his fictional alter ego.
As is to be expected, much joy is gained from watching the film’s marvellous cast in action. Certainly, Baldwin, Cruz and Benigni all deliver fine performances that help to smooth over any difficulties that might arise from the script’s often-jarring dialogue. It also marks Allen’s welcome return in front of the camera – his first onscreen role since Scoop in 2006. However, it’s arguably the younger cast members who give the best performances; Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page play off each other excellently while Italian actor Alessandro Tiberi proves to be a superb physical comedian.
In short, while no longer the comedy titan that he once was, at 76 years old Allen remains a living legend of cinema. His neurotic humour is still in tack and his observations are as discerning as ever. 2012 might not turn out to be a vintage year for the ageing director, but To Rome With Love boasts a fine cast, plenty of laughs and lots of charm. That alone makes it worth recommending.