“To Rome with Love” (2012) is a giddy mix of farce, romance and surrealism, as entertaining – and inconsistent – as a four-ring circus. Written and directed by Woody Allen, it is the first film he has appeared in since “Scoop” (2006).
“Rome” consists of four sometimes contemporaneous but independent stories that revolve around sex, love and relationships in the Eternal City. Like a circus, the center of the film will depend on the viewer’s age and life experience.
In Allen’s segment, he plays Jerry, yet another version of his well-known screen persona. Jerry is an avant-garde performance-art director who once produced a version of Rigoletto that required the entire cast to appear in white-mouse costumes.
See “To Rome with Love” trailer HERE.
Jerry and wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) have flown to Rome to meet their daughter’s fiancée, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), whose father, Giancarlo (tenor Fabio Armiliato), runs a mortician business and sings – only in the shower – as if he’s ready to take center stage at the Metropolitan Opera. Jerry comes up with an hilariously ingenious solution to Giancarlo’s stage fright.
In another story, Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and new wife Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) arrive in Rome to meet his snooty, culturally conservative relatives. A big position in the family business is on the line.
Antonio worries about being late for the engagement because Milly wants to have her hair done at the last minute. She promises to be back before the family arrives but gets lost in the labyrinthine streets of Rome. Then a high-end call girl (Penélope Cruz) mistakenly barges into their hotel room. As the trailer-announcer used to gush about those 60’s-vintage Doris Day-Rock Hudson sex comedies – “it doesn’t take long for the sexy hijinks to begin!”
Another segment plays out like a comical version of “Spur of the Moment” from the old Twilight Zone series. Richard Matheson, who wrote the original TV story, criticized the episode because it revealed too much information too early.
In Allen’s version, John (Alec Baldwin at his best) is a famous architect revisiting the Roman neighborhood of his naïvely frolicsome youth. He crosses paths with Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), a young man who admires his work and invites him over for dinner. Jack lives with Sally, who is anticipating a visit from Monica (Ellen Page), Sally’s supposedly irresistible but definitely flighty friend.
Consciously or not, Allen has deftly adjusted the plot to conform to Matheson’s original vision, accentuating ambiguity while leaving out the melodrama.
Uncertainty doesn’t work nearly as well in a disappointing segment starring Roberto Begnini, who plays Leopoldo, a nondescript office drone married with two children.
One day Leopoldo walks out the front door of his home into a swarm of paparazzi. Has he been involuntarily cast in a “Truman Show” (1998) reality series? Is Allen taking a jab at the media’s complicity in churning out celebrity trivia to fill the spiritual vacuity of modern life?
Whatever the segment was supposed to be, one would have hoped a collaboration between Woody Allen and Roberto Begnini would have amounted to something more.
Still, “To Rome with Love” is never boring, even when some of the jokes fall flat as a worn out tire. Allen has made almost 50 films over his career. Even when he fails to meet the formidably high expectations engendered by his previous work, a “written and directed by Woody Allen” film is always worth seeing.
Sitting through “To Rome with Love” is like watching a great magician perform. The show is sometimes a little tawdry, often funny and enchanting, and in the end, leaves the audience wondering how he did it.