Woody Allen continues his magical tour of Europe’s great cities with To Rome with Love. As much a love letter to Rome as Midnight in Paris was to the French capital, To Rome with Love is a pastiche of short stories in contrast to Midnight‘s centralized plot. But they are all delightful in their own ways, showcasing various traditional (some might say stereotypical) aspects of Roman (or more likely, Italian) culture while simultaneously allowing Allen to take some shots at contemporary culture.
In one vignette, Roberto Begnini plays a middle-class family man with a daily life defined by routine. One day, without explanation, he is the subject of intense and adoring media scrutiny. The banal events of his existence are breathlessly reported on by TV reporters who hound him from his home to his work and every outing. As his fame grows he becomes a celebrity because he is a celebrity. Begnini is perfect in the role.
Ellen Page plays a self-absorbed actress and seductress who wreaks havoc on the relationship of her best friend, Sally (Greta Gerwig), with Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), in Allen’s latest take on traveling to the past (see, for example, his trip to his childhood home in Annie Hall and, of course, Midnight in Paris). In this story, Alec Baldwin relives his amorous adventures as a young architecture student in Rome.
In another, a young Italian couple from the country is tempted by the thrills of the big city (he by Penelope Cruz, she by an Italian movie star). Allen returns to the screen himself as Jerry, the father of a woman engaged to an idealistic Italian lawyer whose father happens to have an amazing operatic singing voice. Jerry, a retired music producer, overhears the father (an undertaker) singing in the shower and tries to convince him to sing in public. Jerry’s wife, Phyllis (the pitch-perfect Judy Davis), is a psychologist, on hand to explain to the audience Jerry’s need to re-establish his relevance from retirement. (The person he’s trying to use to catapult him back into the music scene is an undertaker, no less. Get it?) That’s not the only pedantic moment in the movie, but they did not detract from it for me. Allen loves dialogue. His characters love to talk about what is going on their lives, and sometimes that means they end up explaining the obvious to us schmucks in the movie theater.
There are plenty of delightful moments in To Rome with Love, and if you like Woody Allen movies, this one, while not a masterpiece, will be a fun time spent with a familiar old friend. (And you might also check out these two videos (here and here) starring my talented daughter.)