Europe has been mostly kind to Woody Allen. After years of documenting life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan the famed filmmaker decamped to the continent, beginning his European vacation in London before moving on to Barcelona and Paris. The latest city on his whistle stop tour is one of Europe’s most interesting places, and the setting for his least interesting film in years.
“To Rome with Love” may be the only mainstream comedy—maybe the only non-mainstream comedy, for that matter—to simultaneously contemplate love, fame and Ozymandias Melancholia. Allen has created a portmanteau starring Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page as people under the thrall of life in the Eternal City.
“To Rome with Love” is well-meaning, but feels like something Allen would have written forty years ago. It’s an episodic screwball comedy with loads of characters, identity mix-ups, the comic’s trademarked highbrow references—will today’s audience get a Howard Roark joke?–and surreal situations. It has the same kind of farcical feel and references of his earlier work—look for older men paired with younger women, anxiety, comments on death and discussions on foreign film—but I think if he had written this decades ago it might have been funnier.
Allen, playing Alison Pill’s father, gives himself most of the funny lines, (“I was never a communist,” he says, “I couldn’t even share a bathroom.”), and while he manages to raise a laugh or two, the master’s touch is missing from much of the film.
Sporadic laughs dot the movie, but aren’t in abundance. The most surreal—and effective—part of the film involves Roberto Benigni as a clerk who becomes famous for being famous. It is a study on the nature, and ultimately the fickleness of fame. (K.K. are you watching?) It’s the strangest segment, but also the most charming. Benigni is just one step below his amped up walking-on-the-backs-of-chair-at-the-Oscars mode, and is a pure pleasure.
“To Rome with Love” is long on ambition and Italian scenery, but short on execution.