Thursday, July 12, 2012

Movie with Abe: To Rome with Love

To Rome with Love
Directed by Woody Allen
Released June 22, 2012

Woody Allen is back with his annual summer release, continuing his world tour by visiting the city of Rome this year. “To Rome with Love” is most clearly a love letter to an endearing city, featuring a handful of memorable characters living unconnected lives. Without the magic of nostalgic time travel in Paris, it’s a typical Allen film probing relationships full of infidelity, generally uneven with some plotlines resonating more than others, ultimately just as fleeting as it is funny. Even a forgettable Allen movie, however, isn’t bad, and this one has a lot of great moments that may not necessarily resonate after the film is finished.

As he has done recently, Allen has searched the world of up-and-coming young actors and found several to spotlight in his film. He’s even gone international, bringing the lovely Italian actress Alessandra Mastronardi in as a na├»ve young woman enchanted by the opportunity to meet famous Italian actors. Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page are obvious choices after their initial breakout roles and subsequent successes, and Allen also features independent film stars Greta Gerwig and Alison Pill, two lesser-known but equally talented actresses. Proven thespians Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz, and Alec Baldwin round out the cast, and Allen even throws in a bit of nostalgia by casting himself and Judy Davis as members of the older generation.

“To Rome with Love” suffers from a severe lack of focus, employing a large ensemble with unconnected threads that aren’t ever meant to be sewn up. Two particularly amusing plotlines, one which finds Baldwin giving advice to Eisenberg, clearly meant to be his younger self, and the other, which showcases Benigni as a newfound celebrity famous for being ordinary, are not tethered to reality but seemingly meant to be taken as literally as the rest of the film’s events. Allen’s attempt to get his future son-in-law’s father to sing opera and Mastronardi’s cinematic escapades are wild but far more logical, especially considering Allen’s filmography and the types of characters he has tended to write.

Fortunately, Allen continues to be endearing at age 76, and he’s found a positive place for himself in front of the camera as an older version of his token characters, so neurotic and obsessed with his own ideas that he can barely hear anyone else. His characters, however unconnected and unmemorable, are delightful, or distasteful, depending on what purpose they’re meant to serve, while they appear on screen. Benigni is particularly charming, and Eisenberg, Page, Gerwig, and Pill all spew Allen’s signature analytical dialogue with profound expertise. With non-diegetic narration and affairs aplenty, “To Rome with Love” is explicitly recognizable as an Allen venture, and though it’s hardly his best, it’s still a blast while it lasts.


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