Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Review: To Rome with Love

If you have never been to Rome, you will long to visit the eternal city after watching To Rome with Love.  And if you’ve been before then you will find yourself itching for a return trip.  Woody Allen’s latest film does an amazing job of framing captivating visuals of some of the most tourist-friendly parts of the city.  As one who has been a few times before, I found myself easily navigating the geography of the city during the movie and recognizing small boutiques and caf├ęs where I passed the time between monuments.  Had an Italian tourism office commissioned the film, it would have been deemed a smashing success.  Unfortunately, it is a movie and as a narrative, it leaves a lot to be desired.

I’m on record as not being a fan of movies that follow multiple disconnected storylines (Valentine’s Day, et al), because what you end up with is a collection of smaller stories that are not fully developed in lieu of one strong cohesive narrative that is both complete and driven by character depth.  Quality always trumps quantity.  But I digress.   Allen’s latest film follows four completely self-contained stories with Rome-as-a-backdrop the lone shared thread.  These glorified vignettes follow the plight of a newly wed couple, a retired music producer and his newfound vocalist, an American man reliving his salad days, and an overnight celebrity sensation.

The problems with this film begin and end with the plot(s).  All of Allen’s recent films share a whimsical nonsensical quality that at their best play charming and at their worst feel like neurotic dissections of minutia.  Always though, his films leave you with a nugget of insight - some key takeaway - that justifies the narrative.  In To Rome with Love, the plot is more nonsensical than whimsical, and thus far less charming and the typical Woody Allen brand of neuroses swells into self-indulgence.  And since the movie features four plots instead of the one, we - the viewers - are treated to four sets of useless takeaways, thus leaving the film feeling incredibly didactic.  The two hour rudimentary lecture – or at least that’s what the movie feels like – could have been redeemed had any one of the stories' morals produced a Eureka moment, but sadly no such moment ever materialized.

The performance of the cast is adequate at best but in all fairness, each is handcuffed by limited screen time and poor pacing.  No one is given ample opportunity to shine.  Of the group, Roberto Benigni and Alessandra Mastronardi stand out as best, while Ellen Page is strikingly miscast as an alluring struggling actress.  In his first appearance as an actor since 2006 (Scoop), Woody Allen’s self-deprecating stream of consciousness shtick wears thin very fast and is perhaps the most troubling of all.

I wanted to love this movie like I loved Midnight in Paris, but everything that Midnight in Paris was, this movie is not.  Midnight in Paris feels like it takes you within the inner walls of Paris with wit and charm and gives you this protagonist in Owen Wilson's Gil that you can invest in emotionally.  To Rome with Love constantly reminds you that you are an outsider – a viewer of a jumbled mass of events from behind a glass window.  In lieu of charm, you get a soapbox and the constant nagging question as to why any of this matters.  That perhaps is the biggest indictment of the movie.

I don’t recommend this movie, but I think that at some point you should see it – perhaps on Netflix or on cable.  Allen as a writer and director at his worst is still better than a lot of other individuals who are currently working in the world of film.  In his next project, Allen has cast Andrew Dice Clay and Vinnie from Doogie Howser M.D. so at the very least, that should be interesting.  Here’s hoping that he recaptures the magic and stays behind the camera from here on out.

Standout Performance: Fabio Armiliato as Giancarlo shows why he is one of the renowned vocalists in all of Europe.


  1. Agree - I left this movie feeling really dissatisfied. Nice job putting that feeling into words. Here's hoping Woody Allen hasn't lost it!