Originally titled “The Bop Decameron”, To Rome With Love was this year’s Woody Allen and boasted yet another all-star cast in yet another European setting. But where Midnight In Paris really pushed the whole romantic, nostalgia vibe, this one takes a different route altogether.
For one thing, this is closer to the likes of You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger or Everyone Says I Love You where you follow not one but several characters in their own little continuing vignettes. Woody Allen and the ever reliable Judy Davis play a married couple who go to Rome to meet their daughter’s boyfriend’s parents only to find that the father sings amazingly well in the shower, which Allen’s character promptly plots to exploit. A young architect, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is involved in a love triangle between his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) and one her best friends (played by Ellen Page) althewhile being mentored by one of his favorite architects (Alec Baldwin), or his ghost at least. We also get a playful fable of an average Roman, played by Roberto Benigni, who suddenly finds himself becoming an overnight sensation for no apparent reason and a cute farce in which a young Italian couple gets entangled with Penelope Cruz’s prostitute and unlikely sex symbol Antonio Albanese.
As you can see, this is a busy film and usually this means we get some good and some bad. And indeed, To Rome With Love is a hit-and-miss affair.
Every mini-plot is in some way linked to celebrity, a recurrent theme in Allen’s movies (Celebrity, Stardust Memories), but not consistently so. Take the architect love triangle story, almost identical to the superior Anything Else, by the way, yes John (Baldwin) is famous enough that Jack (Eisenberg) recognizes him and looks up to him and yes Monica (Page) does end up choosing a glamorous life in Hollywood over Jack but those connections are shoehorned in and never feel necessary. Again, in the young couple vignette, yes Luca Salta (Albanese) is a big star and yes Anna (Cruz), in her own way, is pretty well known around town but that’s not really what drives both plots. These are easily the weakest of the four stories: one due to just how much of a carbon-copy of Anything Else it actually is and the other because it essentially solely relies on how effortlessly good Cruz can be.
That said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the other two stories quite a bit. The Benigni one being an absurd, yet clever and very funny, satire on the excesses of one’s “need” for fame, the Allen one simply hitting the right notes throughout (pun intended) and building up to this classic denouement worthy of the director’s own, more surreal, earlier efforts (Every Thing You Always Wanted To Know About Sex, Deconstructing Harry).
When To Rome With Love works, it’s the funniest and smartest Allen’s films have been since Whatever Works and for that alone it’s definitely worth a look. When it doesn’t, it’s no train wreck, it just falls a bit flat. Perhaps two stories were enough, perhaps two different, fresher stories would have worked better, who knows? As it stands, this is one Roman holiday you might want to take but don’t forget your return ticket.
Just in case.