Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love is great at moments, good in others and, at times, tedious. In all it’s a testament to the lesson that less is more as he’s loaded this thing with so many storylines, had the lesser of the bunch been excised he just might have had something to talk about as a solid follow-up to last year’s hit and Best Picture nominee, Midnight in Paris.
As the film opens we’re introduced to a series of characters beginning with an American tourist (Alison Pill) who falls in love with a Rome native (Flavio Parenti). The two spend a whirlwind summer together and decide to get married. Her parents (Allen and Judy Davis) fly in to meet him and his family and her father, an ex-music producer, takes an interest in his father’s (Fabio Armiliato) singing voice.
Then there’s John (Alec Baldwin), an architect who was last in Rome 30 years ago and while his group goes off sightseeing he decides to explore his old stomping grounds, bumping into Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), a young architect not at all unlike himself. Jack recognizes John and invites him over for coffee with his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig). The segment takes shape once her best friend (Ellen Page), an actress, flies in from the States to spend a few weeks and catches Jack’s eye.
Next we have newlyweds Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) who are moving to Rome so Antonio can get a good job through his relatives and they can start a family. Trouble arises following a series of comedic events that result in a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) standing in for Milly while she finds herself having lunch with a famous Italian actor (Antonio Albanese).
Finally, there’s Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), an average Joe who one day walks out of his house only to be accosted by photographers and TV news crews. What’s going on? It turns out Leopoldo is now famous. Why? He’s famous for being famous in what is obviously a commentary on the Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton culture, but it’s also the one story that could have so easily been cut from this film and you never would have missed it.
To Rome with Love runs approximately 102 minutes and by snipping the Benigni story, which is mildly humorous but sacrifices must be made, it would have been so much tighter and would have contained three love stories rather than three love stories and a celebrity curiosity piece exploring the price of fame versus the question of What even is fame?
There’s also a peculiar timeline throughout the whole film as none of the stories are operating at the same time, within the same day. Instead they are all operating independent of the other, which would have made snipping one all the easier. This fragmented timeline doesn’t necessarily disorient the viewer, but it does raise questions that don’t necessarily need be raised. If anything is ever taking you out of the story being told, it is a problem no matter how small it may be.
The best story of the bunch, hands down, is the Eisenberg, Baldwin, Gerwig and Page foursome, which I don’t really want to say anymore about it than I already have for fear of giving away too much. The segment alone could have been the source of the entire film itself and I’d argue it should have been. Eisenberg, Page and Gerwig were made to be at the center of a Woody Allen film and Baldwin is a cherry on top in this instance.
I must also say, I loved seeing Allen back on the big screen and opposite Judy Davis the two make for a powerful comedic duo with Woody’s continued neurosis and Davis’s blunt statement’s matched with her obvious love and affection no matter what kind of imbecille her husband may be.
All-in-all, this is lesser Woody Allen on a whole with splashes of brilliance peppered throughout. The use of the Starlite Orchestra’s “Amada Mia, Amore Mio” is so fitting and Darius Khondji’s cinematography brings a few moments of wonder as a definite mood is set. There is fun to be had, but overall it’s a bit too much.