Rome Robin

Woody Allen sets a middling multi-plot film in Italy

If it’s a zinger capped by the phrase “leper colony,” if there’s a hotel room being broken into by house detectives, if it’s Penélope Cruz spilling out of an outfit borrowed from Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite, then it’s time for the new Woody Allen film.

His latest overseas postcard, To Rome With Love, lacks the clean lines and payoffs of Midnight in Paris. On the other hand, it’s not painful the way Whatever Works was, or a dullard in the Cassandra’s Dream vein. What can we learn from this? Allen probably makes too many movies. This one’s OK. He’ll make more.

Allen’s casting prowess remains unparalleled, wherever his projects are shot. Many tales compete for the frame here. In one, Jesse Eisenberg receives relationship advice and counsel from Alec Baldwin as Eisenberg’s character is pulled into the vortex of neurotic allure represented by Ellen Page, the visiting friend of Greta Gerwig’s.

In another, Roberto Benigni is the husband and father who inexplicably becomes the object of paparazzi lust and unwarranted fame. In a third, writer-director Allen and a deeply mannered Judy Davis play parents visiting their daughter (Alison Pill) who’s fallen in love with the son (Flavio Parenti) of a Roman undertaker (Fabio Armiliato). The undertaker boasts a gorgeous operatic tenor voice, catnip to the ears of the unhappily retired opera director and music producer played by Allen. But he sings like an angel only in the shower; outside the shower, all is belabored effort.

To Rome With Love knows that strain all too well, particularly in the plotline involving the mousy provincial couple (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi) who are separated in Rome and through a series of mistaken identities and misunderstandings end up in the arms of others. Two of the arms belong to Cruz’s call girl.

The movie strolls through its paces, sometimes amusingly, though by the end you’ve heard “Volare” and “Arrivederci Roma” reprised often enough to make you wish they had never been written. The actors make the trip as pleasant as possible. At the end of the Benigni episode, Allen’s thoughts on the burden and peculiarity of celebrity are laid out neatly: Fame is a drag, but it’s preferable to remaining “poor” and “unknown.”

Never has Allen sounded quite so one-percenter about his place in the world. Then again, he never claimed to be otherwise. Early in the film, in a line distilled to precisely the right number of words to make the joke land, even in 2012, his character says: “I was never a Communist. I could never share a bathroom.”

To Rome With Love (R) ★★☆☆☆

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