At one point in Woody Allen’s rambling, absurdist, vignette stuffed, overflowing pasta dish of a new film, Woody’s character says to his psychiatrist wife (Judy Davis) when she tries to psychoanalyze him something to the effect of, “Go ahead, thousands have tried and failed.” On the surface Woody appears to be attempting it on himself here in To Rome With Love. As is such with latter-day Allen flicks, this one is a beautifully photographed postcard of a film, pseudo-intellectual stuff for American tourists, as much a fluffy love letter to Rome as it is a love letter to Allen himself. But Woody is only psychoanalyzing himself for comedic effect (I suppose that’s the eternal self-loather in him), and in many ways this film is as much a jab at his fickle critics and fans who seem lost in this haze that every other film of his stinks. Some are clearly better than others (thus is the curse of being prolific) – but they rarely stink. But if you insist on categorizing this thing, I would say this is at the higher end of the low-end of post millennial Woody. Yes…I guess it’s just above middling, if you must.
There are a million stories in the eternal city, and Allen – the seemingly eternal filmmaker – finds in Rome a kindred spirit. Damn his silly old soul if he doesn’t try to tell a million of those stories in a single film. Watch Woody play a retired opera director who finds in his daughter’s future father-in-law (a mortician) a once in a lifetime opera talent – but alas the man can only sing well…in the shower. Watch Roberto Benigni at his most frazzled Benigni-est playing an ordinary man suddenly beset by random and unfounded fame (perhaps a jab at our reality-obsessed culture that makes celebrities out of nobodies). Watch Alec Baldwin play some riff on a bitter guardian spirit to a young Jesse Eisenberg about to walk into a relationship hornet’s nest. Watch cute Italian newlyweds (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi) explore adultery after the wife gets lost on the way to a salon while a hooker (Penelope Cruz) mistakes the husband for one of her clients.
Yes, there’s A LOT going on in To Rome With Love. Almost too much. But it’s surprisingly funny for the most part despite some missteps, gross improbabilities and absurd scenarios. It’s like Allen said, “Screw it, here’s a whole bunch of jumbled ideas plastered onto beautiful postcards…enjoy!” His commentary on celebrity is that it’s still better to be a celebrity than a normal person. And for good measure, let’s remind people again that monogamy is virtually impossible. In other words, Allen reaffirms to himself that his life (and outlook on it) is pretty swell…and hell, it kinda is. The guy gets to travel all over Europe on a studio’s dime and makes a new film every year that actors and actresses from every level fall over themselves to be a part of and on which he has final cut.
When Allen is able to do wonders like make Alison Pill not a hard pill to swallow (and downright likable here) or turn Ellen Page into a sexpot…you can see why they all want to work with him. Let’s not forget, for all of his neurotic tendencies and bevy of sometimes unlikable on-screen and off-screen alter-egos…like all of the best directors, Allen is at his core a magician. Don’t try to tell me he didn’t work a little bit of magic in Rome.
Written by David H. Schleicher