By Monte Lazarus
Woody Allen’s latest, “To Rome With Love”, is feel good fun. The movie is a pastiche of unrelated plots, while paying tribute to the Eternal City, with spectacular photography of Rome’s treasures.
The plot? There isn’t one. Rather, the film begins with one of Rome’s elegant traffic cops introducing some of the characters and each story takes off. Woody Allen returns to the screen (he also wrote and directed) as Jerry, a neurotic – as usual – retired opera director, flying to Rome with wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) a strong-willed psychiatrist, to meet their daughter’s fiancé and his family. He turns out to be a left-wing lawyer whose father is an undertaker with a magnificent operatic voice – but only in the shower. Thus, Plot one: the lovers plus Jerry’s scheme to make a star of the mortician/singer.
Next, there’s a young, newly married couple from a small town, looking to make Rome their home. They meander apart and become the separate targets of two fantastic seducers; the delicious Penelope Cruz as Anna, a prostitute, and Antonio Albanese as Luca Sala, a portly, balding Italian film star.
On now to Jesse Eisenberg as Jack, a budding architect, who is living with Sally, another ex-pat. Their world scrambles as Jack meets John (Alec Baldwin) afamous American architect retracing some of his earlier life in Rome. At almost the same time Sally’s friend Monica (the excellent Ellen Page) shows up. She’s a pseudo intellectual phony who entrances poor Jack.
Finally, Roberto Benigni appears as an ordinary citizen who is suddenly, spectacularly and inexplicably thrust into fame and celebrity. His world is turned upside down as he and his wife are thrown into the land of Paparazzi, and constant limelight.
The cast is first rate: Jesse Eisenberg adopts some of Woody’s expressions and tics; Penelope Cruz is wonderful as prostitute Sally; Ellen Page is the very model of a Hollywood wannabe, complete with memorization of only first lines of well known poems.
The assorted Italian cast members play their roles broadly and comically, while Alec Baldwin’s role is perplexing. Is he a ghost, a conscience, a real older American reliving his past? At times, only Jack sees him; at other times he is visible to all. Never mind, it works well.
It appears that Woody Allen is now in his “European Period” having exhausted his neuroses in the good old U.S.A. There may be comparisons of “To Rome With Love” with “Midnight In Paris”. Fair enough. But they are very different. “To Rome With Love” is farcical and purely for laughs. Sit back and enjoy it.