Last night, as we were getting comfortable in our seats right before a showing of Woody Allen’s latest film, To Rome with Love, an usher strolled down the aisle to make an announcement:
“Welcome, everyone. You’re about to see something by Woody Allen. I’m sure it’s not as good as his earlier work. But hey – you paid for it.”
My husband and I laughed. Personally, I never care about the reviews of Woody’s films, nor do I tend to disagree with the negative feedback. I’ve seen every single one of his films and pretty much loved them all. They are one of my greatest pleasures in life and I am rarely disappointed.
For anyone to knock this film, they clearly don’t get his sense of humor or what moves and motivates his writing style. First of all, Rome is captivating and the center piece of this film. Rome is a picturesque city full of interesting people, and Allen has scripted stories about a group of them, throwing in his natural affinity for serendipity, romance, fear of death, Freud and psycho-analysis and take on Hollywood and stardom. Secondly, Allen, who we know is not a fan of Hollywood, uses this film to mock the industry, weaving in aspects of what he loathes about it in each story line.
In one story, what appears to be the one with the most screen time, we have a young American architectural student living in Rome, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who meets a famous architect, played by Alec Baldwin, early in the film. Baldwin becomes his imaginary romantic advisor, much like Humphrey Bogart in Play It Again Sam, as he navigates the troubled waters of getting involved with two women, played by Greta Gerwig, a sensible student, and Ellen Page, an actress on hiatus from working in Hollywood films. Eisenberg is clearly a young Allen ingenue, something I’m not sure I like or not. His inflections, his mannerisms – it’s all so Woodyesque that it’s too much at times. Page is the actress who appears to want more than her fluffy Hollywood life, but in the end, her decision is swayed by the glam and prospect of stardom.
Then we have a scenario that includes Allen himself. He plays a retired opera director visiting Rome with his wife, played by the fab Judy Davis, to meet his daughter, played by Alison Pill who is clearly one of his new faves as we just saw her in Midnight in Paris, and her Italian fiancee. When he discovers that her future father-in-law has an knack for opera (he hears him singing through the door of the bathroom as the man is showering and belting out Verdi at the top of his lungs), he becomes obsessed with making the man famous. What unfolds is slapstick comedy full of Freudian slips. Allen is a man who fears death and retirement (like in real life) and the fact that he hasn’t made his mark (perhaps I have too much in common with the man).
The other two stories are in Italian and keep you on your toes. One is about a young couple from the Italian countryside who come to Rome to enter the family business. After they check into their hotel, she decides to get her hair done. When she can’t find the salon (Rome is clearly a city where when you ask for directions, they go on and on and on and on…), she ends up at in first in the arms of an Italian celebrity and then a burglar. He, on the other hand, ends up in the arms of a hooker, played by the marvelous Penelope Cruz.
The last storyline is one of the funniest starring Roberto Benigni (clever casting, Juliet!) about a normal, everyday man who wakes up one day and is suddenly transformed into a celebrity and mobbed by the paparazzi outside his own house. What ensues is a hilarious take on American’s infatuation with Hollywood stars. He is rushed to a TV studio to get interviewed on what he had for breakfast and women start to fall at his feet, telling him they can make love because there are no longer any rules when you have fame. I found Roberto’s scenes hilarious and he has such a knack for comedy, and I have such fond memories of him performing in Life is Beautiful.
All in all, I really liked To Rome with Love. Not one of Woody’s best, but like I said, his yearly productions are what makes my heart sing and they will continue to make my heart sing for as long as I have them. “Don’t psychoanalyze me! Many have tried. All have failed,” Woody tells Davis in the film – one of it’s best lines. Don’t worry, Woody, I won’t. But thanks for helping me to psychoanalyze myself.
Disclosure: All opinions expressed are my own and I have had no contact with the studio or anyone associated with this film.