Woody Allen’s new film, To Rome With Love isn’t nearly as inventive or as fascinating as last year’s Midnight in Paris, but it is nevertheless a light, frothy confection that you’ll have trouble hating.
Continuing his love affair with Europe’s great metropolises, this new film is set in the gorgeous Italian capital, and follows four separate storylines that have nothing to do with each other. In one, Jesse Eisenberg plays an aspiring architect cheating on his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) with her messed-up best friend (Ellen Page), even as Alec Baldwin, playing presumably an older version of Eisenberg, keeps popping up to caution him not to fall for that pseudo-intellectual vixen. Another story centers on Roberto Benigni, playing an average middle-class local who becomes famous overnight for no apparent reason. Photographers and news crews follow him everywhere, stunning models throw themselves at him, and every seemingly insignificant detail of his life – from what he ate for breakfast, to how he trims his hair – assumes national importance.
Less interesting than these is a third story, in which a newly married Italian couple gets separated accidentally. The wife finds herself swept away by the charms of a famous movie star, while the husband must pass off a high-end hooker (Penelope Cruz) as his new bride to snooty relatives. The fourth story, and easily the most enjoyable of the lot, stars the filmmaker himself as a retired opera director who spots an opportunity to reclaim professional glory when he discovers an undertaker who has a voice to rival Pavarotti – but only in the shower.
Alternating between whimsical and charming, To Rome With Love is inconsistent, and feels lazy at times. The track involving Roberto Benigni is decidedly underdeveloped, and there’s a farcical element to the storyline involving the newlywed couple that doesn’t fit easily with the other more subtle tracks. But there’s enough to like here too. Jesse Eisenberg does the whole neurotic thing very well, and Alec Baldwin is terrific as the wise American architect doling out words of wisdom. Woody Allen shoots Rome with a loving eye, giving it a similar eye-watering, travel-brochure feel that Paris and Barcelona received in his recent films. And despite its occasionally meandering nature, the film’s two overarching themes – sexual temptation and the lure of instant celebrity – are adequately explored in the four tracks.
At 76, the filmmaker still delivers an enjoyable enough film, even if it isn’t one of his best. I’m going with three out of five for Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love. Good, but never great.