Latest From Woody Allen Almost Works
TO ROME WITH LOVE (2012/IN THEATERS) Originally titled Nero Fiddled, then Bop Decameron, Woody Allen’s ode to the eternal city is less successful than his recent tributes to Paris (Midnight in Paris) and Barcelona (Vicky Cristina Barcelona). This time he gives us four completely separate stories that never link up but do at least arrive at endings that will leave you smiling as you exit the theater. Roberto Benigni stars in one of the stories as Leopold Pisonello, an “everyman” who is suddenly famous—and hounded by the paparazzi in true Italian-style. In a lovely and very Woody Allen-ish philosophical discussion, his limo driver observes that, given the choice, fame is better than being ordinary, even if one has done nothing to deserve it. Jesse Eisenberg plays Jack, a young architecture student living in Rome with his very pleasant girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) who falls in love with her friend–an out-of-work actress (Ellen Page) playing the intellectual/sexual/nervous seductress role often seen in Allen’s films. Sitting in the background during these scenes and commenting throughout is Alec Baldwin, a successful architect who is reliving his years in Rome through Jack. The “Play It Again Sam” style advice scenes are fine, but nowhere near as good as the originals where Bogart himself gave a young Woody Allen love advice. And Ellen Page seems a strange choice for a “seductress”—too short perhaps? Judy Davis and Allen himself play a married U.S. couple heading to Rome to meet their daughter’s fiancé and his family. Allen is in fine form IMHO as a retired producer of weirdly staged operas who becomes obsessed with featuring the father of the Italian family (played by real-life opera tenor Fabio Armiliato) in a production of Rigoletto. The big hitch: the father can only sing in the shower–leading to some slapstick scenes reminiscent of early Allen (especially 1972’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex…” and the episode featuring the woman who could only achieve an orgasm in public).
Finally we have the story of a young Italian couple from the country who are in Rome to meet the successful relatives and start their city life, only to get separated and experience interesting encounters—his involving Penelope Cruz as a hired prostitute and hers with a famous actor. There’s plenty of fun in the film for sure and the audience in my theater laughed out loud at several points. But I will have to say that at times the movie really lagged, feeling a bit flat or forced. Oh well. As Allen himself said recently at the LA Film Festival, “I probably had more fun making this movie than you will have viewing it.” Who cares? We love you Woody and we’ll see everything you bring us. Strongly recommended it to all Woody Allen fans. Enjoy!