Woody Allen returns to acting in his own film after a six year gap. Was it worth the wait? Eh, sort of. To Rome with Love sees a return to more madcap Allen after the linear, if odd, Midnight in Paris.
There are essentially four stories at work here with some small off-shoots. Hayley (Alison Pill) is an American tourist who falls in love with a local while holidaying in Rome. Her father Jerry (Woody Allen) is an ahead of his time/terrible classical producer and will stop at nothing to make Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato as Hayley’s soon to be father in law) a star once he hears him singing in the shower. Then we have Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) who suddenly becomes a superstar for no apparent reason. A story about newly weds Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) and Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) involving a female escort played by Penelope Cruz. The final story and possibly the most unconventional involves Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), John (Alec Baldwin) and Monica (Ellen Page) where Baldwin plays a moral compass for Eisenberg’s wandering eye.
So enough with all the names already. For fans of Allen it is nice to see him back in front of the camera delivering his Groucho Marx style of self-deprecating neurotic one liners. The female characters of Hayley and his wife played by Judy Davis are pretty redundant merely setting him up for his delivery. The women are more at play in the other stories, particularly Cruz who nearly bursts off the screen as the feisty escort. Alessandra is superb as the shy country girl lost in the enormity of Rome but discovers she may not be as timid as she once thought. With such a big ensemble cast it is inevitable that people will get marginalised which is certainly true of the criminally underused Greta Gerwig (Damsels in Distress).
It is the Europeans who come across as the better actors, possibly due to their language as the delivery seems more vital or important, leaving what the westerners have to prattle on about seem boring and pedestrian. Baldwin is the pick of the bunch in his oddest role for quite some time. He plays an architect trying to find his old stomping ground from thirty years ago when he bumps into Eisenberg who helps him find his house. Baldwin then becomes Eisenberg’s conscience, constantly interjecting anytime he goes to make an obvious faux pas. This is one of the best elements of the film and text-book Allen as we are unsure at times if anyone can see Baldwin bar Eisenberg, but when we think we have it sussed it’s flipped on its head. Most of his interjections come when Page and Eisenberg are engaged in some nauseating dialogue. You are supposed to hate Page’s character and audibly groan when an utterance escapes her mouth but what makes it all the more enjoyable is Baldwin retorting with everything you want to say.
The film is a bit all over the place with constant jumping from one storyline to another you don’t really give much credence to any one thread. None of the stories are connected; early on you expect them to all interlink but when it is obvious this won’t happen you wonder why Allen didn’t just make a series of shorts akin to: Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*But Were Afraid to Ask, which is what we have here, only they’ve been spliced together to give the feeling of an overall film.
Incredibly funny in parts with a whimsical feel and it’s good to see Allen back in front of the camera alongside some solid performances. Like the Colosseum it isn’t all there, but I doubt it will stand the test of time.
USA, Italy / Directed By: Woody Allen / Written By: Woody Allen / Starring: Woody Allen, Penélope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Judy Davis, Roberto Benigni, Alison Pill, Greta Gerwig / 112min / Comedy, Romance / Release: 6 July 2012 (US/Canada), 14 September 2012 (UK/Ireland)