To Rome with Love (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

torome sqThe characters talk about the same issues in the same way they have for the last four decades.

 

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Woody Allen makes a film a year, and has been doing so since the 1960s. That’s a pretty amazing filmography. I always think that I’m pretty indifferent to Allen, but then I remember just how many of his films I do really like. When you make as many films as he does, you get a fair share of misses, and a fair share of great films. His last, Midnight in Paris, was one of the great ones, and really had me excited for To Rome with Love. In the last decade, Allen’s best work has been done when he is working in a new city for the first time (Match Point, Vicky Christina Barcelona, and the aforementioned Midnight in Paris) and Rome is as good a candidate as any.

When the movie starts, we are introduced to an ensemble cast and four separate storylines. Alison Pill plays an American who falls in love with a Roman man and invites her parents to come to Italy to meet him and his family. Alec Baldwin plays an American man who once lived in Rome and revisits his old stomping grounds. Roberto Benigni plays an ordinary man who suddenly finds himself being treated as a celebrity. And Alessandra Mastronardi and Alessandro Tiberi play a young, newly married couple who are separated for a day and end up on their own adventures.

These four stories all play out against the backdrop of Rome. We certainly get a romanticized, touristy view of the city, but it isn’t quite as captivating as I would have liked. I don’t really care about Paris, but after Midnight in Paris, I felt like I had to get my ass to Paris. Here, I went in much more interested in Rome, and walked out feeling pretty underwhelmed.

Whenever a movie features an ensemble cast and multiple storylines, some segments will always work better than others. The one here that works the best is the Alec Baldwin storyline. He meets up with Jesse Eisenberg, a young student living in Rome, and ends up accompanying him, sharing life advice. Baldwin’s character obviously sees a lot of himself in Eisenberg’s, and tries to warn him about the romantic entanglements that await him. In some of these scenes, it is unclear whether Baldwin is actually there or simply Eisenberg’s conscience. Those scenes are playful and enjoyable.

The other storylines are less successful. Roberto Benigni’s segment has some amusing moments, but feels like a one-joke sketch dragged out too long, and Allen’s satire is not particularly subtle, or even fresh. The storyline which works the least is Allison Pill’s, which shifts focus to her parents, played by Judy Davis and Allen himself. Allen hasn’t acted in a movie for quite some time, and it’s nice to see him again; unfortunately, his storyline devolves into something worse than Benigni’s, a one-joke skit where the joke isn’t even funny.

To Rome with Love is classic Woody Allen material. The characters talk about the same issues in the same way they have for the last four decades. I think that is what makes Allen a tricky kind of auteur for me to appreciate. His films all feel so similar, and it’s difficult for me to pinpoint what makes the good ones rise above the rest. To Rome with Love is no Manhattan, but it’s also no Curse of the Jade Scorpion. It is perfectly average Woody Allen. If you love everything that he is about, you will like the movie. If you hate everything he is about, it will not convert you. I will say though, within hours of seeing it, I had already forgotten about it. | Sean Lass

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