Movie Review: To Rome with Love is Woody Allen's Roman Holiday times four
by Gautaman Bhaskaran
Woody Allens’ latest European adventure, To Rome With Love, unfolds in that eternal city of arresting architectural ruins. After his trysts with London in Matchpoint, sunny Spain in Vicky Christina Barcelona and the romantic French capital in Midnight in Paris, the Manhattan director takes us for a four episode spin around Rome. The wittiest of the four films, To Rome With Love is also his weakest. If the four strands, despite intercuts, do not meet in a Fellini-like grand climax, barring for a single encounter of sorts in a restaurant, it’s because the story of one couple is confined to a day, while the other chapters stretch over days/weeks. Some may have reservations about this concept of time.
Allen himself appears in one as Jerry (the first time after the 2006 Scoop), an opera director who is as nervous about airplane turbulence as he is seeing the end of his career. In Rome with wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) to meet his daughter Hayley’s (Alison Pill) future husband, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), a vocal critic of the market economy, Jerry “discovers” a talented singer in the boy’s father. The hitch is that the man can only sing when he is showering, and so Jerry takes him all over wrapped in a towel and a bathroom on wheels. Some of the movie’s best humour can be heard here in this episode, with Allen as the deadpan-faced guy pushing laugh and luck to the very end if only to get his sunk vocation up and running.
In another strand, we have a successful architect, the still dashing Alec Baldwin as John, who during his Roman sojourn runs into a student, Jack (Jesse Eisenberg). Jack’s live-in girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig), in her naivete introduces him to her best friend, Monica (Ellen Page). Well with Sally busy at school, Rome begins to cast a magic spell on Jack and Monica, and John’s warning to Jack about the hopelessness of an affair begins to ring true as the couple’s affair is rocked by a moral dilemma.
Ethics and predicament lace another story. Antonio (Allesandro Tiberi) and wife Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) are newlyweds looking forward to an afternoon of business meetings with the boy’s rich and important relatives that will give him a big break. But instead, the couple get separated. While Milly spends the day with a famous Italian actor (better to have sex with him and regret, than not have it at all and regret, she decides in his hotel room), Antonio gets entangled with an extremely attractive prostitute, Anna (what a wonderful performance by that alluring Penelope Cruz). She helps him tide over his moral crisis by telling him that he must regard sex with her as lessons in love. Oh, wow.
If such wildly scripted chapters are not enough to get you on a high, Allen gives yet another dose of it all with the life of a boringly disciplined and ordinary Italian clerk, Leopoldo, played with trademark gusto by Oscar-winner, Roberto Benigni. Overnight, he finds himself as a celebrity, hounded by photographers (who want to even see him shaving) and hunted by autograph seekers (who would love to know the kind of underpants he wears). In a way, this part could seem stretched, even trifle silly.
Also, Allen’s canvas is too crowded for comfort, with the result that some of the players are hardly fleshed out. There is often a pervading sense of implausibility that Matchpoint and Vicky Christina Barcelona steered clear of. While Matchpoint did have an ethical issue (with the guy escaping punishment after murdering his lover), it was the best of the helmer’s four European works. Vicky Christina Barcelona was the lightest, the most breezy and the perhaps the most romantic without any hangups.
However, despite some of the weaknesses in To Rome With Love, it does capture the city’s eternal romanticism as we walk with his characters to some of the legendary landmarks like the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and Colosseum — also made cinematically immortal by directors like Fellini. Allen's Roman Holiday appears relaxed and comes with a chuckle, nay lots of laughs, and is supposedly his last venture in the continent before he returns to his own New York for the next work.