TO ROME WITH LOVE


I loved To Rome With Love.  And before everyone goes all tweetery on me and starts ending me hate mail, I am fully aware that it has its faults.  I don’t care.  I loved it.   To Rome With Love is really a portmanteau film, merely an excuse for writer/director Woody Allen to string together four separate stories.   In this way, it’s more or less like his early film You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.   But whereas in …Stranger only one story really worked (that of Josh Brolin plagiarizing a friend’s novel when the friend went into a coma), all four stories in To Rome… had merit.  Yes, there is a certain awkwardness to some of the plotting and parts of it could have used a bit more thinking through and may even feel rushed, but they all had their charm and a certain magic to them.  The one that pretty much succeeds on its own terms and feels the most fully realized over all is the one with Woody Allen and Judy Davis (who spouts Allen’s bitchy lines with an Eve Arden heat seeking missile of a delivery) in a tale that feels like a short story that Allen would have written for the New Yorker.  In it, he’s an ex-opera director who discovers a major tenor in the father of his future son-in-law.  The problem is that the man can only sing beautifully in the shower.  So Allen has to stage the singer’s performances in the style of Mary Martin performing I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair in South Pacific, with the end result an hysterical staging of Rigoletto.  The second most successful story concerns two honeymooners, innocents from a small town, who find themselves not only seduced by Moma Roma itself, but the man by a prostitute (a very funny Penelope Cruz) and the woman first almost by a movie actor, but then all the way by a hotel thief (you had to be there) in a plot that feels a bit more than borrowed from Federico Fellini’s movie  The White Sheik.  The best performance is probably given by Roberto Benigni as an everyman who finds himself suddenly, out of nowhere, and for no explainable reason, famous for being famous.  The start is a bit clunky and the idea is obvious, but Benigni is a riot.  The least successful, but perhaps most interesting, is Alec Baldwin (somewhat type cast as a somewhat rueful architect) who once lived in Rome.  He meets a young man (Jessie Eisenberg), also an architect, who just happens to be going through the same romantic crisis that Baldwin went through at the same age.  The dialog and philosophical tete a tetes feel a bit dated and very Annie Hallish, and Baldwin’s integration into the story is not well thought out.  It should have been better, but it also has its moments.  The stories all seem unified not just by location, but by theme.  If feels as if Allen is saying that maybe it’s better to not achieve one’s goals, that perhaps in life one would be happier and more at peace if one settled for a simpler life.  In the end, only the Allen character really gets what he wants (staging the perfect opera), but it’s an illusion.  He doesn’t realize that he is actually being ridiculed by his peers.

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