Film review: TO ROME WITH LOVE, from Built For Speed

After the wonderful nostalgic fantasy Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s European tour hits a major pothole with the uninspired To Rome with love.  This frothy, feather-light film features mostly unsympathetic characters in the midst of mild romantic dilemmas that are rarely interesting or funny.

The film has four main story threads all of which examine the strange corrupting lure of fame although none of these explore this theme in a particularly insightful or original way.

Woody, who’s always welcome on screen, plays (believe it or not) the neurotic Dad of a young American girl (Alison Pil) who is studying in Rome and has who fallen in love with a supposed communist (Flavio Parenti).  As an opera impresario, Woody is enraptured by Parenti’s dad (Fabio Amiliato) who sings like Pavarotti in the shower.  Woody’s attempt to bring the man’s wonderful voice to the public results in some absurdist comedy reminiscent of early Woody movies like Bananas.  Elsewhere in Rome a young newly-married couple (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi) have to deal with a mixed-up prostitute (Penelope Cruz), snoopy in-laws and a sleazy movie star (Antonio Albanese) in a story that clearly references Fellini’s 1952 film The White Sheik.  Also, Jesse Eisenberg (as Woody’s younger avatar) plays a nervous architecture student who’s contemplating cheating on girlfriend Greta Gerwig with flaky actress Ellen Page.  Roberto Benigni also appears as dull office worker who wakes up to find he’s inexplicably become a celebrity and a paparazzi target.

After a very subdued start the film begins to build up some of the familiar Woody energy but unfortunately it never hits full stride. This is partly because the multi-story plot leaves the film without a centre and just has us casually drifting back and forth between the characters.

Like all Woody’s films that celebrate a city, it contains many loving shots of the local architecture but the overly bright, candy-coloured depiction of Rome sucks any light and shade or atmosphere out of the film.

As with a number of Woody’s post-New York movies this one includes quirky fantasy elements and quasi-supernatural figures who act as a kind of Greek Chorus. Here Alec Baldwin plays a visiting architect who seems to transform into Jesse Eisenberg’s consciousness or possibly future self. In a sea of bland characters Baldwin is at least mildly interesting as he berates would-be starlet Ellen Page for all the pretentious manipulative rubbish she talks.

As a major Woody Allen fan I was highly disappointed with this fluffy, insubstantial film and hope that his next venture recalls some of the intellectual grit, humanity and inspired comedy of his classic films from the 70’s and 80’s.

Nick’s rating: 2½ stars.

Classification: M

Director(s): Woody Allen

Release date: 18th Oct 2012

Running time:  112 mins.

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