Woody Allen’s new movie “To Rome with Love” does not have that magical quality of his previous work “Midnight in Paris”(2011), but it is still an enjoyable film consisting of four short farces happening in Rome. The movie leisurely walks around the streets of Rome in lightweight mode, and, though the result is a mixed bag on the whole, it is a good one filled with enough wits and charms to be recommended.
Starting with the introduction by a traffic policeman telling us there are many stories in Rome, the movie simultaneously rolls and juggles four individual stories with no particular connection between them. Most of them are amusing or funny in each own way, and even one story not working well has few nice moments even though it remains unsatisfying in the end.
In case of the episode where Allen appears, he plays a former opera director named Jerry. Jerry and his psychiatrist wife Phyllis(Judy Davis, one of the regular actresses in Woody Allen movies) come from New York to Rome to visit their daughter Hayley(Alison Phill) and her Italian fiancé Michelangelo(Flavio Parenti) and his parents. While happy for his daughter’s upcoming wedding, Jerry is uncomfortable not only with his future son-in-law’s political view but also with the occupation of Michelangelo’s father Giancarlo, who works as an undertaker.
But, when he discovers that Giancarlo, played by a real-life opera tenor singer Fabio Armiliato, sings fabulously while having a shower, his old professional instinct is stimulated by this discovery. He wants to present that wonderful talent to others in public, but there is one big problem; Giancarlo can sing well only when he is in shower booth. With a comic circumstance reminiscent of a classic short animation film “One Froggy Evening”(1955), this part becomes the funniest episode in the movie as it pushes its silly situation to the end, and I laughed a lot because of how it arrives at its outrageous but logical conclusion while maintaining its straight attitude.
I also enjoyed a typical Woody Allen romance story between Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, and Ellen Page. Eisenberg plays Jack, a young would-be architect who has been living happily with his girlfriend Sally(Greta Gerwig) in Rome while preparing himself for his future on the horizon. On one day, Sally brings her actor friend Monica(Ellen Page) to their home for providing some comfort to her(she has just broken up with her latest boyfriend). They thought Monica would not affect their relationship, but, as they spend some time together, Jack finds himself being attracted to Monica – and so is Monica.
They are observed by John(Alec Baldwin), whom Jack encountered at the beginning of the episode. He keeps appearing around them, and he sometimes throws opinions and comments as Jack behaves unwisely. It is not so clear whether John is a real guy or the voice of reason in Jack’s mind or older Jack looking at his past from the future, but the interactions between Eisenberg, Page, and Baldwin are coupled with witty dialogues we can expect from Woody Allen, and they are pleasant to watch.
Meanwhile, a young hopeful Italian couple arrives at Rome for getting a good opportunity to live there. Antonio(Alessandro Tiberi) is supposed to meet his relatives who will give him a promising job, but he gets stuck in a serious trouble when a hooker named Anna(Penélope Cruz) suddenly enters his hotel room. They quickly realize that there is a misunderstanding(she is sent to the wrong room), but, unfortunately, his relatives come to the room right at that moment, so now he has to pass her off as his wife in front of them.
While he continues to face more difficulties because of his deception, his wife Milly(Alessandra Mastronard) also finds herself in her own trouble when she goes out for finding a hairdresser’s and then loses her way in the city. While not knowing what to do, she encounters a film crew shooting a movie on location, and that is where she meets a famous actor Luca Salta(Antonio Albanese). She is surely excited to meet him as one of his fans, and that leads to another silly situation.
The least successful part belongs to Roberto Benigni. He plays an ordinary family man named Leopoldo, who is famous because he becomes famous when a group of paparazzi and reporters suddenly gather around him for no apparent reason. They keep annoying with trivial questions and endless flashlights, and he is completely at a loss at the center of this chaos.
One main reason why this part does not work is that it tells a very familiar story about fame and its addictive aspects in a predictable storyline. Leopoldo slowly discovers that it is not that bad to be famous because he gets some advantages in exchange of his private life, but then, alas, they move their focus to another target, and the story ends with fizzle even though Benigni tries hard – or too hard, perhaps.
So, we have four short stories mixed together within a nice package decorated with the lovely sights of Rome, and it is a lightweight comedy with breezy fun even though it is two or three steps down from Allen’s best works. It may be disappointing to some of you and you may agree with some critic who said the movie was one of the worst movies of the last year, but we all can agree on one thing; as long as he lives and works, we can always expect another Woody Allen film soon coming to us.
Allen has recently been less prominent than before considering the overall quality of his recent works, but he has been consistently diligent for many years, and he already has a new movie to be shown to us in this year. The days of “Annie Hall”(1977) and “Hannah and Her Sisters”(1986) may never return, but you cannot help but admire his prolificacy. If you like “To Rome with Love”, then you’ll expect another fun from him. If you don’t like it, then you’ll expect a better fun from him. Isn’t everybody happy?