TO ROME WITH LOVE Send This Review to a Friend
Woody Allen has written and directed a love letter to Rome and Italian cinema, expressed with a mix of romantic entanglements, Allen-style comedy and an eyeful of Rome captured by outstanding cinematography that takes advantage of the city’s many striking locations. This new movie venture doesn’t have the special literary wit of “Midnight in Paris,” but it has a freshness of its own and has been cast to perfection. It also has one of the funniest comic ideas in memory, but there’s no way I’ll spoil it for you by giving it away.
A cop on the street in a section of Rome sets the overall scene by saying he sees everything that happens, whereupon we gradually get introductions to the characters to be followed. Allen has cast himself as Jerry—are you ready?—a retired opera director. Very droll Judy Davis plays his wife Phyllis, whose mission in life would seem to be putting him down, signaled with lacerating looks and the dismissive tone of her voice. They have a daughter, Hayley (Alison Pill), who has fallen for Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), a young dogmatic Italian leftist. His father, Giancarlo, played by Italian tenor Fabio Armiliato, has a great voice that intrigues Jerry, but only likes to sing in the shower and has no designs on being a professional, much to the disappointment of the frustrated Jerry, who hungers to get back into action with a new star.
One of the other stories involves Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi), who has come to Rome with his new wife Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) with the aim of impressing up-tight relatives so that they will help him get a job in the city. Milly is so eager to make a good impression that she goes out to get hair done, but gets lost, and instead of being back at the hotel on time, becomes involved in unexpected adventures. Meanwhile, Antonio is surprised in his room when Penélope Cruz as Anna, a prostitute, barges in to have sex with him as a gift from friends, but Antonio is the wrong guy. We can expect what will happen once they are in bed. Let it be said that Cruz is sensationally sexy, is dressed to match and looks as if she could drive a guy crazy. The situation grows inventively complicated and Cruz becomes a picture stealer.
In yet another situation Jesse Eisenberg as Jack, an American, meets Alec Baldwin as John, a noted architect, and the film takes a plunge into fantasy. John, reminiscing about his own youthful days in Rome, turns up repeatedly commenting cynically on actions and relations involving Jack, his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) and her friend Monica, cleverly played by Ellen Page as a self-centered actress who with her sexy posturing and verbal stream of come-ons and manipulation makes men fall helplessly for her. John keeps warning Jack, based on his having experienced such dames in his youth. But will Jack listen? Not so incidentally, the camera just loves Page and close-ups make her endlessly fascinating.
In addition to Allen’s amusing concentration on the aforementioned set-ups, he takes a broad, hilarious swipe at Italian television and the celebrity culture. A program’s gimmick is to find an unknown man in the street, zero in on him and put him on TV to answer a barrage of questions about his every day life. A nobody is turned into a somebody. Who better to play such a fellow than Roberto Benigni, who as Leopoldo Pisanello finds his life turned upside down and becomes a celebrity pursued by paparazzi. He protests, but what happens when someone new is anointed the chosen one?
Allen has a Fellini-like talent for casting, whether for main or supporting roles. He approaches his story with verve, sprinkles in gags and, with his imaginative screenplay, succeeds in making this jaunt to Rome a most enjoyable trip. Those who prize Allen’s work and those who don’t probably will try to evaluate “To Rome With Love” in relation to his others. But his films defy classification. Each one represents the prolific Allen on a new kick, and this one is to be thoroughly enjoyed on its own jaunty, often hilarious terms. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Revewed June 19, 2012.