On Movies: Not a lot of love for Woody's 'Rome'
'To Rome with Love'
Almost inevitably, whatever Woody Allen movie came along this year in the wake of last year’s wonderful “Midnight in Paris” faced the danger of being judged a disappointment. Unfortunately “To Rome with Love” is just that.
Part bedroom farce, part satire of the cult of celebrity, “To Rome with Love” provides enough laughs and insights to be worth seeing, particularly for Allen fans. But the four tales of love and lust it tells circle around one another without ever really coming together, and most of the characters – young, old and middle aged -- don’t seem very interesting. That may be in part because they don’t seem to be all that interested in one another. For a movie about passion, “To Rome with Love” is strangely dispassionate
There is no question that 21st-century Rome looks beautiful in Allen’s lens, its ancient streets and weathered building glowing in the Italian sunlight. But the setting lacks the mystery and magic of the Left Bank nine decades ago as it was summoned up in “Midnight in Paris.”
Of late, Allen has wisely populated his films with younger actors and he once again has chosen rising stars who are both popular and have an air of hipness. Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”) plays what might be thought of as the young Woody Allen role. His character is a fidgety fledgling architect torn between his loyal, steadfast girlfriend (Greta Gerwig), and her best friend (Ellen Page), a flighty, intellectually pretentious aspiring actress. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of chemistry between Eisenberg’s character, Jack, and either young woman.
Early in the movie, Jack acquires a world-weary adviser, an older architect played by Alec Baldwin. As the movie goes along, Baldwin’s character morphs, not very smoothly, from a seemingly real person to a mental construct, an alter ego who issues avuncular advice that only Jack can hear. Stay away from the actress, the ghostly older man advises. Jack hears, but he does not listen.
Woody Allen doesn’t always appear in his movies these days, but this time he plays Jerry, a retired opera manager who is in Rome with his wife (Judy Davis) to meet his daughter’s fiancé, a rather pompous young Italian socialist. The fiancé’s father is an undertaker who sings like Caruso, but only in the shower. Jerry comes up with an outlandish and intermittently funny scheme that involves having a portable shower rolled on stage as part of the set for a grand opera performance of “Rigoletto.”
Another story line involves a young married couple from the Italian provinces who become separated and find themselves tempted by others: she by an Italian movie star (Antonio Albanese), he by a beautiful prostitute (Penelope Cruz).
In the best subplot in the movie, Roberto Benigni is almost Chaplinesque as an ordinary middle-class Roman who suddenly finds himself famous for no apparent reason, surrounded at all times by paparazzi. He lets it go to his head, setting himself up for a fall. How easily and quickly, Allen shows us, the burden of fame can be lifted.
In the early years of the new millennium, with such unremarkable movies as “Anything Else” and “Melinda and Melinda,” Woody Allen hit a slump. Then he began filming in Europe – first in England, then on the continent.
He started what has to be considered a comeback with “Match Point,” a deliciously dark, suspenseful comic tale set among the British leisurely set and starring Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. “Match Point” came out in 2005, and since then, although Allen continues to release a movie every year, he seems to have settled into a cycle of turning out a really terrific one every three years. Which is pretty amazing when you think about it, and not just for a man well up in his 70s.
Three years after “Match Point,” in 2008, after a couple of so-so movies, we got the delightfully romantic “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” and three years after that, in 2011, Allen released what has turned out to be his biggest box-office hit of all, the charming “Midnight in Paris.” Let’s hope we don’t have to wait until 2014 for the next really good Woody Allen movie.
Opens July 6