After being physically and inspirationally stuck in Manhattan for so long, it is kind of fun to see Woody Allen taking his ensemble films on a Grand Tour of European cities like Barcelona, Paris, and now Rome. This has also has injected a dose of silly romanticism back into his comedies, best represented by the uber-popular starry-night romantic fantasy hit Midnight in Paris.
To Rome… follows a handful of separate stories, varying in interest, with plots that don’t bother colliding. Some are more interesting than others, and unsurprisingly, all circle around a neurotic male character, aka, the token Woody Allen stand-in.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Jack, a student studying in Rome and living with his cute American girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig). Sally’s best friend Monica (Ellen Page) is coming through town, and Sally warns Jack that her friend is quite the player… that he will inevitably fall in love with her friend. Of course this is the case, as Monica offhandedly tells stories about her various lovers and blah blah blah while Jack’s eyes get large and glassy. The best thing about this portion is the weird but always-welcome addition of Alec Baldwin, serving as a sort of narrator/lurker to the story. Whether the story is a fantasy, memory, or is actually happening is a little unclear, but Alec is unsurprisingly a hoot.
Another plot is a bed-hopping newlywed farce where a young Italian couple go to the big city for the first time and end up separated and entangled in their own wocka-wocka sex comedies. Though Penélope Cruz shows up as a high-end prostitute who is seemingly the most well-known woman in Rome among high-rollers, this portion seems like Woody is trying and failing at a Euro-style bedroom farce.
Meanwhile, Roberto Benigni, in an another all-Italian-language plot, plays an every-man named Leopoldo who wakes up one morning inexplicably famous. His wife is delighted as Leopoldo is chased on the streets by paparazzi, is interviewed on TV (“What did you eat for breakfast today?”), and is invited to red carpet galas. This portion is fun, but kind of a one-joke plot that would have been best suited for a short story.
Finally Woody Allen himself is in his movie this time, and his plot is one of the more amusing. Woody and his wife, played by the delectable Judy Davis, travel to Rome to visit their daughter who is now engaged to an Italian named Michaelangelo (pronounced “Meeee-kel-angelo” as Woody is oft reminded). Music producer Woody becomes enraptured with his future parent-in-law, Michaelangelo’s mortician father, who has an astonishingly beautiful singing voice… but only when singing in the shower.
Maybe Woody churns out movies too fast to have all if his films to be a knockout—To Rome with Love is one of those that leans more toward “miss” than “hit”. Though it is certainly not one of Woody’s best, nor most memorable, but it is still a light and fluffy summer trifle that will most likely amuse his fans.