To Rome with Love (2012) / Comedy
MPAA rated: R for language and sexual references (probably would have been a mild PG-13 if not for one contextually adult F-bomb)
Running time: 102 min.
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Woody Allen, Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandra Mastronardi, Ellen Page, Penelope Cruz, Judy Davis, Flavio Armiliato, Allison Pill, Flavio Parenti, Greta Gerwig, Alessandro Tiberi, Antonio Albanese, Carol Alt
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Writer-director Woody Allen's (Midnight in Paris, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) omnibus dessert film covers four mostly breezy comedic storylines, mostly revolving around the theme of "romanticizing", which is fitting, as the root of the word is derived from the name of the world capital itself. The cast a mix of American tourists and Italian national actors, plus Penelope Cruz (On Stranger Tides, Nine), and how each of their characters lives undergo a certain metamorphosis through the exposure to the city, its art, its architecture, and its people. In this way, it plays like the other films that have a similar title, Paris I Love You and New York I Love You, except with less stories and all of them by the same writer-director. It's a leisurely film, mostly a soufflé with a few poignant moments sprinkled on top, delighting more with whimsy than in striking insight as each character goes through his or her own individual folly in the Eternal City.
Though it has been increasingly rare to see Allen cast himself in one of his films these days, he does get a sizeable part in one of the stories, playing Jerry, a former director of operas who finds the old fires stoked when he discovers that his daughter's (Pill, Scott Pilgrim) future father-in-law (played by real-life tenor, Flavio Armiliato), has a virtuoso vocal talent worthy of any aria -- at least as he sounds while singing to himself in the shower. Jerry becomes a pest as he cajoles the father into exploring a singing career, while a rift threatens to form between the two families due to Jerry's well-meaning pushiness.
Other stories involve a successful American architect (Baldwin, It's Complicated) who revisits his old stomping grounds while as a lad, and might have even run into his younger persona when he meets a student of architecture (Eisenberg, Zombieland) who becomes seduced by the allure of a young visiting hipster friend (Page, Smart People) of his girlfriend (Gerwig, No Strings Attached). Meanwhile, a newlywed couple from a provincial Italian town become separated from each other just before then important business meeting, with the wife (Mastronardi, Don't Tell) lost among the circular streets of the city, where she rubs elbows with movie stars, and the husband (Tiberi, The Immature) is caught in an uncompromising position with a prostitute with whom he must pass off as his wife in her absence. And lastly, Roberto Benigni (Coffee and Cigarettes, Life is Beautiful) stars as an everyman husband and father who suddenly discovers that his ordinary life has made him extraordinary, as the entire city is riveted by stories of the newest, hottest celebrity -- him.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, each tale is a folly of romanticizing, and the lack of willpower people have when it comes to the potential of a better, more exciting life if they merely were to choose to venture to the other side. It's a form of the old proverb about the grass always appearing greener on the other side, where someone often doesn't want to give up one to pursue the other, and even if pursued, one naturally gravitates toward being the same person they were always meant to be. It's a longing for the life they can't have, until they have it and must confront whether to ditch everything they were or ride the wild ride and see where it leads them.
Each vignette is delightful in its own way, and though each storyline is markedly different from the next, Allen manages to keep the same lively, buoyant tone throughout each of them. And the actors are certainly game, conversing quite naturally, even with the differences in language and culture (and such differences are part of the fun).
As is often the case with vignette-style films, not enough time is given to any particular story to go for a deep or substantial experience, but for what the film is, meant purely to entertain in a witty and charming (and enjoyably absurd, at times) way, To Rome with Love marks yet another return to the kind of filmmaking that his fans most enjoy. While no new ground is broken other than the locale in Allen's prolific body of work, it's a great thing to see him continue making films with effortless confidence.
©2012 Vince Leo