To Rome With Love can best be described as Tourism Porn, where writer director Woody Allen creates a lovely two hour long commercial for the great capital of Italy and invites you to visit. Beyond that, the film is a thin, mostly shallow and semi humorous ensemble comedy. It’s not the best Woody Allen picture, but is still a fun enough watch.
Going with the tradition of his previous few films, Allen rounds up a great cast including Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Ellen Page, Greta Gerwig and Roberto Benigni, and the ensemble is good enough to overcome a flimsy, slightly clichéd story. Even the characters are quite familiar – the lovesick men and the quirky, slightly neurotic women, and Allen himself as his usual self. In a Roman hotel, a prostitute Anna (Cruz) mistakenly walks into the bedroom of a newlywed man (Alessandro Tiberi) who is forced to make her pose in front of his relatives as his wife. His real wife (Alessandra Mastronardi) meanwhile, in search of a salon finds herself on a movie set and is hit on by a famous Italian actor. Somewhere else a girl (Greta Gerwig) tells her live in boyfriend (Jesse Eisenberg) about the arrival of her sexually charged man-eating actress friend (Ellen Page), while the ghost of his future self (Alec Balwin) stands around him as the sneering voice of reason. In another place, a retired opera director (Allen) finds the perfect opera singer in his daughter’s father-in-law, but it turns out the man can only sing well in the shower. Elsewhere, a boring everyday man (Roberto Benigni) suddenly becomes a chick magnet celebrity and the paparazzi hound him to ask mundane questions. All of this works as a breezy mélange, but not so much as a cohesive, intelligent story.
The subplot about the showering opera singer, though fun, is straight out of an episode of Flintstones (Barney sings in a bathtub). The Benigni subplot is the best among the lot, not just because it is funny but also because it is heartbreaking . Allen doesn’t really bother to tie up all the stories into one big conclusion, so it feels like a bunch of (pretty looking) short stories slapped together. This is no Midnight in Paris or even a shade of Annie Hall but Allen manages to squeeze in two or three outstanding scenes and fun banter on sexual politics in and out of marriage. Baldwin, with his raspy voice is at his best and gets to hurl the best lines of the movie. Not quite unmissable, but To Rome with Love has some nice moments, and would be best enjoyed on DVD over a glass of wine.
(First published in MiD Day)