I sincerely hope that Woody Allen is making a commission with travel agents for all the European holidays his films have inspired in the last seven years. To Rome with Love is the latest installment in Woody’s tour of the continent and like Midnight in Paris and Vicky Christina Barcelona before it, the overwhelming feeling I was left with was the desire to defect abroad. Woody’s dedication to warm tones gives those feelings that extra oomph. It gives everything that hazy glow that makes everything and everyone more attractive. It might not be the most realistic lighting, but it’s beautiful and that’s a quality I much more admire anyway.
Set against this beautiful backdrop are four fantastical tales of people living and loving in the Eternal City. There is a newlywed couple (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi) in town to make business connections, but who end up making some connections of a different kind with a call girl (Penelope Cruz) and a movie star (Antonio Albanese); an avant-garde opera director (Woody Allen) coming out of retirement to manage an undertaker with a circumstantial gift (the insanely talented Fabio Armiliato); an ordinary man (Roberto Benigni) who suddenly finds himself famous; and a successful architect (Alec Baldwin) reliving his own Italian love affair reflected in a young love triangle (Jesse Esienberg, Ellen Page, and the underused Greta Gerwig), that may or may not be a figment of his imagination.
All of these stories touch on what happens when you get what you thought would make you happy, but are still miserable. Some deal with this theme more successfully than others. In certain instances Woody’s messages seem a little heavy handed and forced with the lesson being clearly stated by multiple characters. Woody also had this problem in Midnight in Paris with his theme of nostalgia (also touched on in Rome) but the sheer volume of the cast, all discovering the same thing, makes it feel as you’ve been hit over the head with the idea instead of just aggressively introduced to it.
The vignettes, while superb when taken on their own, fail to mesh well into one final product. Taking place over different time frames, yet unfolding for the viewer all at once, through intercuts, gives everything a disjointed feel. Even more jarring is the level of fantasy each story reaches. The tale of sudden fame and young love being narrated by Alec Baldwin reside totally in the realm of the bizarre, yet the story of the honeymooners and the incredibly clean opera singer, while still absurd, are logical enough to make you question all the stories to determine what they’re trying to achieve. I found myself spending so much time trying to figure what was real and what wasn’t that I was distracted from what was going on in the actual movie, which is never a good sign.
These flaws, however, are minor in the grand scheme of the film. Woody has once again delivered a fun, light summer movie and though it’s not quite on par with some of his other films, it’s certainly better than most other summer fare being offered up. If anything its worth a look as a starting point to planning that European getaway you’ve always imagined.
– Devin Mainville