Woody Allen leaves New York City again for another trip to a storied European capital.
Last summer, Allen’s romantic comedy, Midnight In Paris, spent magical nights in Paris. The film became the biggest hit of the writer-director’s 40-plus years of filmmaking.
This summer Allen goes to Rome but the magic is in short supply. Midnight In Paris is a transporting romantic adventure in the City of Light. To Rome with Love is a diverting afternoon in the Eternal City.
Even for Allen, competing with a film that rates among his best work, a movie loved by audiences and critics, must be a challenge. His latest film is amusing but not nearly as inventive as its predecessor. Well, not everything a great artist produces is a masterpiece.
To Rome with Love features a mostly familiar collection of Allen characters, including Jerry, the neurotic New Yorker Allen portrays; Jerry’s wife, Phyllis, a psychiatrist played by Judy Davis who doesn’t hesitate to analyze her husband; Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), an American architectural student in Rome who’s a sort of young Allen; and Monica (Ellen Page), an American actress who should come with a warning label.
The script tells multiple, mostly unconnected stories. American couple Jerry and Phyllis travel to Rome to visit their daughter and, much to Jerry’s dismay, her Italian boyfriend.
Allen’s script integrates a subplot in the latter scenario featuring Italian opera and satirical jabs at his hometown’s art and cultural scene. Jerry, a former executive at a classical music record label, dreams big. In Rome he engineers a wacky confluence of opera and performance art.
Jerry’s concept yields mixed results after their daughter’s shy, perhaps future father-in-law, Giancarlo (portrayed by Italian tenor Fabio Armiliato), is enticed into making his opera debut. The fallout includes an explosively amusing scene featuring an enraged Roman giving American entrepreneur Jerry a nearly fatal review.
To Rome With Love also contains stories solely performed by Italian actors. English subtitles appear as Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) and Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi), a young couple from the provinces, arrive in Rome with hopes that Antonio’s relatives will help him become a successful businessman.
Penélope Cruz, winner of an Oscar for her role in Allen’s 2008 film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, co-stars in the Milly-and-Antonio story as Anna, a popular Roman prostitute. A smoldering goddess in a red mini-dress, Cruz rules the screen.
One of the weaker To Rome with Love stories casts Roberto Benigni, a best actor Oscar winner for his 1997 film, Life Is Beautiful, as a man suddenly famous, albeit for no good reason. For all the comedy and irony the scenario suggests, the concept doesn’t fly in Allen’s realization of it.
Also not hitting high notes, an American businessman portrayed by Alec Baldwin lurks around American couple Jack and Sally (Eisenberg and Greta Gerwig) and Sally’s visiting friend (Page). Often funny character actor though Baldwin is, his awkwardly placed role in To Rome with Love as a semi-magical figure who dispenses fervent warnings to Jack is more confusing than amusing.
Far from being a four-star production from Allen, To Rome with Love has only modest charms. It won’t achieve the sustained, broad popularity that Midnight In Paris inspired, but it’s not so bad either, especially for Allen followers.