To Rome With Love
Woody Allen attempts to replicate some of the magic from last year’s delightful Midnight In Paris by returning to a fabled old European city and addressing similar themes of nostalgia and the burden of the past, specifically the weight of the Woodster’s own back catalogue, in To Rome With Love. Trouble is…this one really isn’t very funny, with an added smugness making it a disappointing follow-up to his Parisian adventure.
Encompassing four separate strands (two in English focusing on Americans abroad in the Eternal City; two in Italian) of varying impact, Allen’s film meanders through absurd farce to oddly bitter meta-rant on celebrity and the critical reaction to his own until recently ever-dwindling in quality output. Though not completely without charm (mainly coming from Penélope Cruz as a savvy hooker in a frothy yarn of a provincial Italian couple separated in the big city), the satire and introspection are overly on-the-nose.
One of the tales sees Roberto Benigni’s ordinary Joe inexplicably elevated to household name and its comment on the transient, now seemingly arbitrary nature of fame grows wearisome fast. Jesse Eisenberg, meanwhile, plays a character who finds it difficult to remain faithful to the lovely Sally (Gerwig) when her trampy, pseudo-intellectual best pal Monica (Page) visits, but this strand quickly loses its edge thanks to a device which sees Alec Baldwin, as Eisenberg’s older self, pointing-out the ridiculousness of the familiar set-up to both characters and audience at every opportunity – just in case we miss the irony apparent from the players’ mannered performances and parodical exchanges.
Allen himself crops up in the least successful segment as Jerry, a recently retired opera producer all aquiver at the discovery his daughter’s soon-to-be father-in-law is a tenor of rare quality. The sniping of the impresario's psychoanalyst wife Phyllis (Davis) at his motivations as he attempts to make a star of the simple mortician with the big voice is again too obvious for the initiated, not amusing enough for the unversed. Would’ve been fun to see the alluded to Tosca performed in a telephone box, mind.