If Woody hadn’t set the bar so high, critics of his new movie wouldn’t be as niggling. Alec Baldwin summed things up, “Woody Allen’s less successful efforts are far better than most other films you’ll see.” So, while it doesn’t have the magical intrigue of Midnight in Paris, Woody’s zany humor throughout To Rome With Love makes it well worth schlepping to the theater for.
In a montage of four stories on the titillating streets in the city of fountains, Woody puts himself back onscreen. He hadn’t acted since 2006. “In the last half a dozen scripts I’ve written,” said Woody, “there hasn’t really been a part I could play.”
In To Rome With Love, Woody’s character Jerry is a restless, retired opera director whose world collides with Giancarlo, played perfectly by Italy’s renowned tenor Fabio Armiliato. Jerry is eager to escape retirement. He’s grown tired of obsessive fears about old age and “sitting in the corner drooling.” When he overhears Giancarlo singing in the shower, Jerry becomes invigorated, convinced that Giancarlo and his talent are the ticket back to the work world.
Jerry’s daughter (Alison Pill) is engaged to Giancarlo’s over protective son, Michelangelo, pronounced Meeeekelangelo (Flavio Parenti). Judy Davis plays Allen’s wife but her character is as bland as white rice and so is every other female in the film—except red-hot Milly, the vampy hooker played delectably by Penélope Cruz.
Roberto Benigni, Italy’s treasure, plays Leopoldo, a bewildered, agitated Joe Schmoe work-a-day who’s suddenly and inexplicably famous. Relentlessly stalked by paparazzi who are fascinated by what he ate for breakfast and whether he wears boxers or briefs, Leopoldo’s life spirals dizzyingly out of control. During this adventure, a random chauffeur delivers a line that seems to express Woody’s views, “Life is tough and it’s tough whether you’re famous or not famous, and in the end it’s probably, of those two choices, better to be famous.”
Scene-stealer Alec Baldwin seems to be another mouthpiece for Woody’s life. He plays John, a successful-yet-jaded man doling out hard-won romantic advice to Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) who gets tangled up with Monica (Ellen Page) while he’s already living with Sally (Greta Gerwig). Page looks more like a lollipop than a seductress. ‘Tis pity, too, because her character might’ve actually been intriguing. Gerwig gives off the excitement of a doily.
But amidst the misses are a lot of direct bull’s eyes. So the bottom line is: Let go of high expectations. Set yourself free to enjoy Woody’s comedic love letter to Rome.
Opens Friday, June 22, 2012. Rated R. 112 minutes.