To Rome With Love (2012)

If you’ve been writing and making one movie every year, you’re faced with a greater challenge after each production. It’s an annual increment of difficulty. You need to create something original and not recycle old jokes, not a clone from your previous works but still imbued with your own style and signature.

A movie a year, that’s what Woody Allen has been doing for over four decades. Hats off to him for his creative energy and motivation. I’m more than willing and ready to overlook the ones that are not so great in his repertoire. For me, his misses are still better than some others’ hits.

And for those who still linger in the Annie Hall/Manhattan trance, I’d say, move on. His recent works may not be as unique and stylish as those in his earlier days, they are still entertaining and funny in their Woody Allen way.

Last year’s Midnight In Paris is an Oscar worthy hit. First you think, then you laugh. This year, Allen brings us To Rome With Love. You can just laugh. It is not as cerebral as Midnight. You don’t get to meet Hemingway or Dali, instead, you see the vignettes of ordinary folks who happen to be living in or visiting Rome.

An interesting film structure here, and in the hands of an auteur, it looks alright to tell four totally unrelated stories at the same time. The plots are interwoven well, albeit the ending, or endings, seem a bit abrupt.

Here they are, simple stories in the hands of a veteran writer/director…

A prominent American architect (Alec Baldwin) revisits Rome where he  studied architecture in his youth. He encounters a young architecture student (Jesse Eisenberg) and is most ready to offer the young man his advice, not on his profession but relationships, as he sees the young man succumb to the lure of his wife’s (Greta Gerwig) best friend (Ellen Page) staying shortly in their home while recuperating from a failed relationship.

It seems in every Woody Allen film, there’s a pseudo-intellectual. This role falls surprisingly on Ellen Page, giving us a fresh view of the young Canadian actress, a departure from Juno, Whip It, and Inception. Jesse Eisenberg is dreamy and sweet, unlike his Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. And Alec Baldwin is… Alec Baldwin.

Six years after Scoop, Woody Allen comes back on screen in his own movie as a reluctantly retired opera director. He travels with his wife (Judy Davis) to Rome to meet his daughter’s fiancé and his family. While in their home, he can’t resist the talent he finds as he hears the father sing in the shower. The real-life, acclaimed tenor Fabio Armiliato has many chances to sing in this movie, but in a very different setting. Some hilarious scenes, albeit they look like they are made in the expense of culturally stigmatizing. But I admire that Armiliato is willing to go along with the wacky Woody scenarios.

A third story line is a mistaken identity subplot with a newly-wed couple moving to Rome from a small town. As the wife (Alessandra Mastronardi) steps out of the hotel room to get her hair done, a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) drops in, to the horror of the husband (Alessandro Tiberian). His relatives are just outside the door soon after so the two have to improvise.

The fourth story is very funny and could well be Allen’s commentary on the making of celebrity by paparazzi. An ordinary citizen, well-played by the animated Roberto Benigni (Won Oscar for his role in Life is Beautiful), is turned into a celebrity for no apparent reason. He is chased everywhere by the paparazzi, interviewed on TV, asked the most trivial questions like what he has for breakfast, shaver or razor, boxer or brief… Uncanny parallels of what social media make of us, everyone can be readily exposed, everyone can be a celebrity if only one has enough followers. The simple lesson here is, they can drop you as quickly as they pick you up. Unfollow by just a click.

A breezy summer treat. The scenes may seem episodic but they are smoothly woven. Again here, the actors are the major assets, especially when you need to improvise as some scenes look like. Every character likable, and the overall effect enjoyable. Not epic but still an entertaining piece of Allen humor. After all, you don’t churn out an epic every year.

~ ~ ~ Ripples


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