Flush from the career resurgence of 2011’s Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen takes us to the latest stop on his long European vacation in the multinarrative tale To Rome With Love. But would anyone have noticed if these same stories had been set in New York, or Los Angeles or Cleveland?
His four stand-alone stories deal with both Italians and Americans in the Eternal City. Retired opera director Jerry (Allen) discovers a raw talent when he meets the father of his daughter’s Italian fiance. Architect John (Alec Baldwin) strolls around the city he last visited 30 years ago, and meets a student (Jesse Eisenberg) who reminds him very much of his younger self. A pair of small-town newlyweds (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi) are separated while on their honeymoon. And middle-class Everyman Leopoldo Pisanello (Roberto Benigni) finds himself inexplicably, instantaneously famous.
Allen thrived on high-concept, often surreal premises in his vintage short fiction, and here he’s mostly dealing with whimsical fables. The strongest by far is the Baldwin/Eisenberg segment, a wistful look at the things our older, wiser selves wish someone had told us in our foolish youth. And the Benigni piece gets nice mileage out of the absurdly capricious nature of celebrity.
Yet Allen still sometimes appears to be spinning his wheels even in these short segments, repeating the same gag more than once to diminishing effect; he also indulges an often unpleasant affection for the restorative powers of infidelity. More significantly, there’s nothing here that feels particularly Italian, or Roman or anything besides a chance for the filmmaker to clear the cupboard of some ideas that he’d had lying around. For all the amusing, classically “Woody-esque” one-liners, there’s little here that’s likely to linger in the memory. Allen can return to New York without anyone particularly wishing he’d hang out here a little longer.
TO ROME WITH LOVE
Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni