Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Alec Baldwin, Penélope Cruz, Woody Allen, Roberto Begnini, Judy Davis, Greta Gerwig, Allison Pill, Flavio Parenti, Alessandro Tiberi, Alessandra Mastronardi
When my wife told me she rented To Rome with Love, she seemed kind of curious. She no doubt had seen the cover that gave no sign who wrote, directed and placed himself on the camera. Instead, she saw Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Penelope Cruz and that delightful Ellen Page.
“Did you want to see that?” she asked, thinking I might.
“You know, it’s a Woody Allen film.” I replied dryly.
Her smile turned to a tortured frown. That’s how Woody rolls in our house.
The plot can be boiled down to pretty much everything you usually see in a Woody Allen film.
1) Dissatisfaction with current significant other. Alec Baldwin just walks off from his wife at the beginning and into the life of Jesse Eisenberg, and then acts as his muse when Eisenberg meets his girlfriend’s friend. The impression is that Eisenberg is Baldwin in younger form and now, older, he is calling the game as he sees it with the benefit of hindsight. This is the most interesting storyline.
2) Conservative parents meet daughter’s union loving “communist” fiancé. Allen gives himself the “ironic” pleasure of mocking conservatism in the broad strokes he understands. This belies the fact that he still acts like a neurotic liberal New York Hebrew. Not exactly method acting. Judy Davis is just there to give Allen a wife that is in the ball park of his own age. That’s acting, too. The singing in the shower bit would be a good Saturday Night Live bit.
3) A young married couple who gets separated and, invariably through wacky hi-jinks, hook up with other people. You know, prostitutes, world-famous actors. The kind of stuff that usually happens on honeymoons. One has spent more than a few minutes wondering whether Cruz couldn’t act because English was not her first language. It’s safe to say she can’t act in a bunch of languages.
4) Then there is Roberto Benigni, who plays a humble citizen inexplicably turned into an overnight sensation, you know, like real life. He finds that his life is difficult whether everyone wants to hear your voice, or if no one wants to hear it. Perhaps this is based on his journey from Life is Beautiful to Pinocchio. The only acting here is when he pretends that he is surprised by the cameras, instead of real life where he seeks them out.
The movie plays like a series of ideas sketched out though not fully developed. It’s a flight of fancy that allows a guy to take a bunch of his friends on a trip to Rome, paid for by the production company. Rome lends itself to cinema, and Allen has found some nice ways to frame it. There are memorable lines, mostly by Baldwin, but the rest is underdeveloped, fragmented and disconnected. My wife has another word for it :
If you are a fan of Woody Allen, it’s time to start questioning your wish to see his new material. Just re-watch the older stuff.
(**1/2 out of *****)