Tuesday, June 26, 2012

TO ROME WITH LOVE (2012)

Written & Directed by Woody Allen


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  June 24, 2012  4:30PM


"To Rome With Love", the forty-sixth film written and directed by Woody Allen, is a manic farce set in the Eternal City with an all-star cast of American and Italian performers. Given that this film was highly anticipated, due to Mr. Allen's comeback smash comedy, "Midnight In Paris", "Rome" is just as generic and uninspired as it's title. The film is surprisingly bland and unfocused as it manages to deliver only very brief moments of charm, wit or actual humor.

The film is played out in four unrelated vignettes; Hayley (Alison Pill), an American visiting Rome, asks a passing stranger for directions. The handsome Roman, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) is more than helpful and soon the two fall madly in love. Hayley's parents, Jerry (Allen) and Phyllis (Judy Davis) come to the city to visit their daughter and to meet this new man in her life. Jerry, who is a bored, retired music teacher, over hears Michelangelo's father, Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), singing opera in the shower and he has a spectacular voice. With dollar signs flashing before his eyes, Jerry is determined to get this man on the stage but Giancarlo declines as he is just a simple mortician, not a singer. After Jerry wears him down, Giancarlo finally auditions but discovers that he can only actually sing in the shower. Unfazed, Jerry is not about to let a little thing like that stop his plans.

John (Alec Baldwin) is an another American visiting Rome but he had been to the city many years ago as a younger man while studying to become an architect. Deciding to revisit his old neighborhood, he runs in to a another American, Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) who recognizes him. This young man is studying to become an architect and just happens to live in the same building that John used to live. His sweet girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig) informs Jack that her broken-hearted friend, Monica (Ellen Page), a high-strung actress is coming to Italy to stay with them for a visit. She warns her boyfriend that she's a reluctant seductress but he's not concerned until he meets her. Despite John also warning him as he's been in a similar situation when he was his age, Jack still winds up being swept away by this actress. Are Jack and John the same person, looking back on his life or is John a figment of Jack's imagination? No idea.

Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) is a simple, unasuming man who eats breakfast with his family every morning before going to work at his routine job. His life is turned upside down when one morning, he becomes a sought-after celebrity for no apparent reason. He's at first very annoyed by all this attention but soon learns to easily enjoy the perks of his new-found fame.

The best segment involves a newlywed couple from a small town who come to the big city for the opportunity to start a new life. Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) is nervous about meeting his relatives who could help lead him to a better career but his wife, Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) is only concerned about having her hair done before they arrive. As Milly becomes hopelessly lost trying to find the salon, there is a knock on their hotel door. Anna (Penelope Cruz), a comely, local working girl, pounces on Antonio, informing him that she has been paid for to fulfill his wildest dreams. Although a mistake has been made but his high-class relatives arrive early, so Antonio has no choice but introduce this lady as his wife. Meanwhile, Milly stumbles on to a film set where she becomes star-struck by meeting an Italian movie star (Antonio Albanese) as he becomes focused on seducing her.

"To Rome With Love" is a heavy handed affair, combining surreal fantasy with broad comedy but it all ends up feeling pretty stale. It seems like Mr. Allen whipped these dusty, random sketches out of the bottom of a drawer and tied them together to make this film. However, if Mr. Allen wasn't going to put any real effort to update or improve these wheezy stories, he really should have left them where he found them. I am a very big fan of the writer/director and what makes this latest film so disappointing is that I have seen what great work he is able to do when he puts a little effort such as "Crimes & Misdemeanors", "Bullets Over Broadway" or "Hannah and Her Sisters" to name just a few of my favorites.

Mr. Allen returns to the screen for the first time since his last appearance in his 2006 film, "Scoop" and he, once again, plays a high-strung New Yorker. While he is still more than capable of selling a joke but his routine feels just as tired as the rest of the film. The actors don't seem to have been given much guidance so they just rely on their own instincts which leads to some wildly, varied performances that also throws the film out of whack. Ms Cruz is able to do much with very little as she effortlessly brings much needed warmth and charm as she is the true comic highlight of this misfire. Mr Benigni, also long absent from film, delivers delightful moments of hilarity with his rubbery face alone but since Mr Allen didn't rein the comedian in, his antics become overbearing, most especially during his segment's final act. Rising indie star, Greta Gerwig is completely wasted and no offense to the talented Ellen Page (who was perfect in her breakout film, "Juno") but she is never believable for one moment as an irresistible femme fatale, no matter how hard she tries.

While "Midnight In Paris" played like Allen's lovely valentine to that city, "Rome" feels more like an unnecessarily hostile assault on this ancient city. Rome deserves much better and so does the audience.