I’ve seen Rome, and I’ve seen Paris, and brother, let me tell you, To Rome With Love is no Midnight in Paris. Well, in all honesty, that’s not a new thought, it is merely an opinion already written by many who discuss films. I grafted that thought on to an even older statement that originated in the dark world of politics. That comment has been run through various word processors by lots of people, usually emerging with the same intent, but usually about a multitude of different subjects.
In my view, TRWL was simply a case of Woody Allen raiding his own cinematic cabinet, and recycling his own old recipes. After a rather silly opening in which a Roman vigili (that’s Italian for traffic policeman) interrupts his direction of the flow of traffic to tell us that he sees all of Rome’s people in his work and they all have stories. It’s not a whole lot of words with deep meaning but it was the truth. The film is a bunch of collected stories of people in Rome. Notice I said collected and not connected.
We meet Woody Allen, he’s a retired director of operas, and Judy Davis who play a married couple (Jerry & Phyllis) flying to Italy to meet their daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) who is taking the summer off and living it up in Roma. We join them on the plane where Woody/Jerry is a nervous wreck after some momentary turbulence. As usual, Allen is manic – the gestures, the incredibly worried look on his face – we’ve all seen this before, as has his wife. As sane and as calm and level-headed as she is, Allen’s Jerry is her opposite.
Hayley, their daughter stops a young man on the street. He’s named Michelangelo, and Hayley is hoping for directions to The Trevi Fountain. The directions are a bit complex. Woody likes to use this as a way having people either meet or get lost, so it is repeated multiple times throughout the film. Turns out the Hayley and this guy hit it off and become a couple.
Meanwhile in another part of town – I’m not sure, but I think the except for the usual tourist high spots – most of the film was shot in the Trastavere neighborhood, a man who routinely wakes at 7:00 AM everyday (we see this event, followed by breakfasts, at least 3-4 times) is a clerk in an office. This may be Rome, but Allen makes sure we get that men in offices, that hangout at the water cooler, are the same everywhere. They banter around, trading quips and put downs, while they can’t take their eyes off a leggy and busty secretary who raises their temperatures.
Anyway, this man, Leopoldo Pisanello is played by Roberto Benigni, who in his way is physically like a younger Woody Allen, only Italian, becomes an overnight celebrity. We’ve no idea why – and neither does he. He’s hounded day and night by paparazzi, and tv reporters who thrust microphones at him and ask him what he had for breakfast that morning.
They even infiltrate his apartment. A breathless reporter describes Leopoldo shaving and nearly makes it exciting. He’s invited to appear on TV talk shows, gets a job with a big office and his own leggy and busty secretary. It’s like the whole of Italy is hanging on his every word, every thought – only he has nothing much of importance to say.
I’m not sure what Woody was doing with this, but three possibilities come to mind:
- 1) He was making fun of the Italian media
- 2) He was making fun of the celebrity-crazed Italians
- 3) He was saying fame is ever-so-fleeting. It comes and goes. Except for me – I’ve been making films for more than 40 years.
Then we have Alec Baldwin as John, a famous architect. He’s in town and he’s not willing to go off with his wife and another couple to sight-see because he’s seen all the sites and he used to live in Rome many, many years ago. So he wanders back to his old neighborhood. He’s recognized by a young architectural student, Jack, played by Jesse Eisenberg.
They talk and again the issue of some one being lost comes up. Of course Eisenberg volunteers to take Baldwin’s character John to the street he’s looking for. On the way, they stop off at Eisenberg’s apartment which he shares with his live-in girlfriend Sally, played by Greta Gerwig.
She’s excited because her girl friend, Monica, played by Ellen Page (below) is flying in and will be staying with them.
Monica is another one of those know-it-all pretentious bores, much like the character Paul (played by Michael Sheen) from Woody’s great film Midnight in Paris, with an added component – sexuality. While Paul pontificates about everything from artist’s lives and affairs to wines and beyond; Monica prattles on about her sex life. Despite initially denying, then resisting Monica’s unsubtle directing of the conversations toward sex, Jack begins to feel like he’s a stack of metal shavings and Monica is a magnet. He cannot keep his distance.
This is where John (Baldwin) changes from a real guy to a Greek Chorus who appears in every scene with Jack and Monica. He materializes at every opportunity. He continually points out what Monica is doing along with continually warning Jack to stay away.
Baldwin was rather good in this role and one of the few characters that stood out in the film.
But wait – there’s more. A young Italian couple checks into a luxury hotel. They’re on an extended honeymoon and are supposed to meet some relatives. He’s called Antonio and she’s Milly. Before meeting the relatives – she has to go and have her hair fixed up. Yes – more directions, more getting lost. Back at the hotel – Antonio finds that someone has hired a hooker played by Penelope Cruz who waltzes into his room.
We all know she’s got the right room but the wrong guy. A case of mistaken identities – but since she’s paid for, Cruz’s Anna won’t take No for an answer -
and then of course the relatives arrive. So Anna now has to make-believe she’s Milly. She’s never going pass for a blushing bride, but she gives it a go – to keep the relatives at bay for Antonio.
Got all that? The stories continually circle around us, dropping in one at a time before stepping aside for the next installment of another story already in progress. They never really connect at all – except for the constant recycling of A giving B giving directions on how to get to location C – and B always gets lost. The stories expand in the distinctive Woody Allen way – and that usually means that things that are funny happen to the characters, as well as things that are just silly.
It is a pleasant film – but only just that. You do laugh, and some of it is funny – but it seems recycled – or not the least bit fresh. Woody probably likes Rome, and the idea of doing a film in Rome was certainly a good idea. But it was his next film after Midnight in Paris. So a comparison was inevitable.
I liked the concept of three Woody’s in the film, with Woody playing himself as Woody the Older, Roberto Benigni as Middle Aged Woody, and Jesse Eisenberg as Woody the 20 something.
I’m scoring the film at just three-point two five out of five. The music was nice as were the visuals – if you’ve not been to Rome, then you’ll love the look of Roma, the Eternal City. But overall, the humor seemed lacking – not enough laughs, not all that funny, and definitely not new.
Here’s hoping Woody’s next film is better than this one. BTW, the vigili (the traffic cop) also closes the film. The trailer is below.