To Rome With Love

July 6, 2012

in Movies

Film (2012)
Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Kendall Square Cinema

With Woody Allen (Jerry), Fabio Armiliato (Giancarlo), Alec Baldwin (John), Roberto Benigni (Leopoldo), Penélope Cruz (Anna), Judy Davis (Phyllis), Jesse Eisenberg (Jack), Greta Gerwig (Sally), Alessandra Mastronardi (Milly), Ellen Page (Monica), Flavio Parenti (Michelangelo), Alison Pill (Hayley), Alessandro Tiberi (Antonio)

Ellen Page and Jesse Eisenberg

Ellen Page as Monica and Jesse Eisenberg as Jack

A series of loosely related misadventures, each with its own Allenian flair, adding up to an entertaining farcical travelogue.

All of these narratives interweave and mingle:

Hayley (Alison Pill) comes to Rome and happens to meet Michaelangelo (Flavio Parenti), an Italian, and falls in love. Her parents, Phyllis (Judy Davis) and Jerry (Woody Allen) fly in to meet the prospective groom and his family. The groom’s father, Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) is a mortician who, it turns out, has a great singing voice, but only when he is in the shower. Jerry, an offbeat opera director, consequently arranges several recitals featuring Giancarlo onstage – you guessed it – showering.

Alessandro Tiberi as Antonio and Alessandra Mastronardi as Milly

Alessandro Tiberi as Antonio and
Alessandra Mastronardi as Milly

Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) are a young Italian couple who move from the countryside to the big city. They are meant to meet his relatives who supposedly will set him up in business. Milly goes out to get her hair done, loses her cell phone and winds up having lunch with a movie star. Antonio, meanwhile, is visited by an errant hooker, Anna (Penélope Cruz), destined for someone else, but they are happened upon by his relatives and she winds up having to play the role of his wife to help him save face.

Penelope Cruz

Penélope Cruz as Anna

Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), an ordinary clerk, is besieged, all of a sudden and for no known reason, by papparazzi who gain sudden and fervent interest in all of his personal habits. He soon gains fame for being famous and the press settles onto him, taking interest in his shaving techniques, his diet and all the rest.

Sally (Greta Herwig) and Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) are living in Rome together when Sally’s best friend Monica (Ellen Page), an actress, descends on them. John (Alec Baldwin) and Jack have met in a casual friendly encounter, but before you know it John starts showing up in Jack’s awareness as an older guide, serving as a counselor to his growing passion for Monica.

I found myself laughing quite a lot during this film, though clearly there are lots of lines that do not work and parts of the narrative that seem tired and overused.

But what I found interesting was that despite this, the gags and the various schticks worked pretty well when they worked – and when they did not, it was not such a big deal. Often, in the past, I would walk out of one of the less successful Woody Allen films feeling bruised by the shortcomings, and not very happy about the whole experience. This film was different – it was obviously flawed in places. But, despite that, and being totally aware of it, I still found it very enjoyable in many ways.

Roberto Benigni as Leopoldo

Roberto Benigni as Leopoldo

The Benignini routine is very funny. It obviously plays off the original paparazzi scenes from Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. The premise is hysterical – that the press all of a sudden takes an interest in an ordinary man’s ordinary affairs.

There is not only the allusion to La Dolce Vita that rings true here, but also to Hal Ashby’s film, Being There (1979), starring Peter Sellars, based on the 1971 Jerzy Kosinski novel of the same name. In that film, a simpleton gains great public reverence by simply repeating his simpleminded observations; the press magnifies them into thunderous words of wisdom. In both films, the press operates autonomously, doing and believing whatever it wants, regardless of what might merit its attentions.

Paparazzi is a word taken from one of the characters, a tabloid photographer named Papparazzo, in Federico Fellini’s classic film La Dolce Vita (1960).

Watching Woody Allen (Jerry) and Judy Davis (Phyllis) as Hayley’s parents is like tasting an old vintage that has some of the original pizzazz but also has gone a bit south. They are a great pair, but there is something over-rehearsed about some of this shtick.

But some of the old stuff never loses its steam. Jerry’s sudden anxiety at having shaken the mortician’s hand before the mortician said he needed to wash is classic Allen and still funny.

All in all, this is fair but enjoyable Allen, drawing quite a few laughs amid the lines that fall flat, rising to a pleasing, but not momentous, finish.

Jesse Eisenberg as Jack, Greta Gerwig as Sally

Jesse Eisenberg as Jack, Greta Gerwig as Sally

Portraying the young Americans, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Herwig, Ellen Page, all good actors, play their angles in the triangle well, but there is something a little too offhand, indirect and low-key about their dilemma; it just is not electric enough. Of course, it is the same Woody-Allen-style conflict about passion and fidelity revisited for the Nth time, so there is no surprise that the same tires have lost a bit of air.

Somehow, however, the story of the young rustic Italian couple – along the same lines, about passion and fidelity – has much more energy. Perhaps this gives a clue to why Allen is seeking out, in his recent films, exotic European settings and enhancing the cast of stars with some local talent. Certainly, Alessandra Mastronardi, as Milly, has a lovely, almost innocent, steaminess, and Alessandro Tiberi, as Antonio, is just a few adventurous steps away from making things really cook between them.

– BADMan

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