A cluttered Rome

Woody Allen’s latest anthology underwhelms.

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To Rome with Love isn’t one of Woody Allen’s better showings. I’m no Allen connoisseur, but I’ve seen enough to know when he’s on his A game. This isn’t it. To Rome with Love features some enjoyable stories and a few fine performances. It’s mildly humorous and moderately entertaining. But the compliments end there. There’s hardly any substance unless you count the takeaway from the film being that humans are sexual beings that will inevitably succumb to adultery.

Of course there’s more that Allen is trying to get across, but the key word is trying. He lumps four stories into this movie, each unrelated to the others aside from general location and theme. To Rome’s characters are on a quest to obtain something more from life — whether it’s a lover, job or lifestyle — but I’m not so sure moviegoers will feel the least bit enlightened by this trip.

Allen wrote and directed To Rome, and he also returns to the screen as a member of the supporting cast. We’re introduced to his character (Jerry) in the most obvious of ways — he’s whining, this time about slight turbulence on a flight to Rome. Jerry and his wife (Judy Davis) are making the trip to meet with their daughter (Alison Pill) and her Roman boyfriend Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). A retired opera director, Jerry discovers the untapped vocal talents in Michelangelo’s father (Fabio Armiliato), who is only comfortable singing in the shower. It’s a shame this story is more about the parents than the young couple; Alison Pill is nicer to look at than Allen.

Across town are newlyweds Antonio and Milly (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi), who have a big day planned around meeting the former’s high-brow relatives. Milly gets lost in town looking for a hair salon, causing Antonio to employ the acting skills of a prostitute (Penélope Cruz, giving a fine performances) to pose as his wife.

Then there’s Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and Sally (Greta Gerwig). They live a cozy life together until Sally’s actress friend Monica (Ellen Page) gets dumped in the states and comes to Rome to decompress — and allow my infatuation with Page to continue. The actress gets a chance to play a role outside of her usual typecasting (the quirky teenager that’s years younger than Page’s real age), a young woman who puts on as much a performance to people in her everyday life as she does in her acting gigs. Jack falls for her, against the advice from his mentor John (Alec Baldwin). A not so minor detail is that there are moments when John is in the room with multiple characters but has dialogue with only one at a time, so it’s left to question whether he’s really there or not. I wouldn’t worry about it, though.

The final story is centered on a middle-class Roman family man whose life reaches Kim Kardashian levels of fame. Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) becomes famous for no other reason than just being famous, and his every move is either raved about or ostracized by the media.

Got all that? It’s a lot to process and isn’t any easier to do so when watching in the theater. Allen doesn’t do the greatest job of distributing these characters’ screen times evenly, which makes it a challenge to get into the rhythm of the film. At one point I had forgotten that Milly (remember, one half of the newlywed couple) wandered herself onto a movie set and was swooned by her favorite actor (Antonio Albanese). There’s just a lot crammed into 112 minutes, and how much we care about these characters suffers because of that.

A traffic policeman (Pierluigi Marchionne) at the beginning of the film prefaces to the audience that everything in Rome is a story. Dually noted, but I still couldn’t have been prepared for this many stories in one sitting.

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