Sunday, July 22, 2012

Review: "To Rome with Love"

As we all know, I love Woody Allen. So it was with some surprise that I was able to wait until the second day of its release to see his newest film, To Rome with Love. It is his seventh film to be set outside New York City - with Whatever Works (2009) his only New York-based film since 2004 (filmed due to the pending writer's strike). After the success of Midnight in Paris last year, which was nominated for Best Picture and won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, studio hopes were high for To Rome with Love, especially since American audiences had re-embraced Woody Allen. And let's not forget that he is re-teaming with  Penélope Cruz, who won a well deserved Oscar for her performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008). This also marks Woody's first onscreen appearance since 2006's Scoop, even though Jesse Eisenberg seems to have taken on the Woody Allen role in the film. Since Woody releases, on average, one film per year, a lot of speculation goes into casting choices and plots. I was excited to see that Judy Davis (a major collaborator during the early 90s) and Ellen Page had been cast in the film. I thought that Ellen Page would be a prime candidate for Woody's unique dialogue - and I was right! Alec Baldwin is a great actor, and he is great on 30 Rock, but I was not convinced by his performance in the film. To Rome with Love is filmed as four separate vignettes set in Rome. Each story is interesting, but they are not equally conceived. The story involving Roberto Benigni is humourous, but it does not hold as much insight as the other three. Conversely, I wish that more emphasis had been placed on the story involving a newlywed couple from the countryside who find themselves separated for a day. To Rome with Love is a more traditional Woody Allen film than Midnight in Paris, and while it has Woody's trademark humour and monologues about death, it never manages to be completely cohesive. Woody Allen fans may be left unimpressed, but it has enough to entertain you without challenging you.

Hayley (Alison Pill) becomes engaged to Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) and her parents are flying to Italy from New York to meet her potential husband. Her father, Jerry (Allen), is a retired music industry executive who believes Michelangelo's father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), a funeral director, has a unique gift for opera - while singing in the shower. His wife Phillis (Davis) is outraged by her husband's refusal to commit to retirement. Jack (Eisenberg) is an architecture student living in Rome with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig - a surefire Chloe Sevigny lookalike). Jack happens on John (Baldwin), a renowned architect, who used to live on the same street when he lived in Rome. At the same time, Sally's best friend Monica (Page) has arrived to stay at their apartment and Sally is worried that Jack and Monica will fall in love. Meanwhile, Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) and Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) have traveled to Rome for their honeymoon to meet with his uncles for business. Milly is desperate to get a more modern hairstyle for dinner, and while seeking a salon she becomes lost. Milly meets a famous actor, Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese), who is immediately infatuated with her. At the same time, Anna (Cruz), a prostitute, is sent to Antonio's room and the two end up being forced to pretend that she is his wife, Milly. Finally, Leopoldo (Benigni) is a simple working man who suddenly becomes a huge celebrity. He is interviewed on the national news and hounded by reporters without ever doing anything to deserve his stardom. 

Woody Allen has had the kind of career that other directors could only imagine. He has been able to write and direct over 40 films in the past 46 years. Quentin Tarantino has released eight films in 20 years - when Kill Bill should be considered one film. Even Martin Scorsese has only released 24 films during the same period. There is not another director like Woody Allen, who is able to continue creating and evolving. In the 1990s Woody Allen was vilified because of his relationship with Soon-Yi. Nowadays, in a world of Internet celebrities and reality idols, would we be so quick to exile one of the greatest working directors in the world? There are people who still refuse to watch Woody Allen's films because of what he did. This is the director who created Annie Hall (1977), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Crimes & Misdemeanors (1989) and Match Point (2005). Has Woody Allen not done enough for American cinema that he deserves more credit than Snooki? To Rome with Love is not good enough to be listed among those four films, but it is better than mediocre Woody Allen (such as 1998's Celebrity and 2006's Scoop). The acting is fantastic, and that should come as no surprise. Woody Allen films have been awarded acting Oscars in the 1970s (Annie Hall), 1980s (Hannah and Her Sisters), 1990s (Bullets Over Broadway) and 2000s (Vicky Cristina Barcelona). He is able to write and create great films that are always worthy of viewing - at least once. To Rome with Love is a slight disappointment, but the acting is spot-on and it makes me more excited for next year. Let's wait and see what Cate Blanchett can do with Woody's dialogue. 

My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4. 

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