After the announcement that Woody Allen’s next film will be located in San Francisco and New York, it looks like we might be seeing the end of his European sojourn in TO ROME WITH LOVE. And what a wonderful trip it has been, filled with beautifully shot echoes of earlier Allen films. We’ve revisited CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS’ questions of guilt and morality in MATCH POINT, and we’ve luxuriated in RADIO DAYS-esque nostalgia in last year’s surprise hit MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Now, as Allen makes the requisite stop in Italy for TO ROME WITH LOVE, we find the filmmaker returning to a whole litany of past ideas through four distinct stories, each taking place in a breathtakingly gorgeous Roman setting.
If you recoil at the thought of another multiple storyline film, featuring an overwhelming number of characters and plotlines that slowly converge to an inevitable climax, have no fear. With the exception of a few minor connections, Allen keeps his stories separate, using the many narratives instead to create variations on a theme. What we have, then, are four vignettes that present characters with opportunities to be something that they’re not. When each character embraces these opportunities, hilarity ensues in what is one of Allen’s lightest, breeziest films.
This is not to say that it isn’t also one of his most thoughtful films. As an ardent fan of Woody Allen’s work, I have always argued, even during some of his rougher patches, that the ideas have always been there. Allen’s films all seem to emerge, not from some character or plot device, but from something he wants to get off of his chest. In this latest film, Allen has something to say about celebrity, fidelity, and ambition, and he says it all with wit and poignancy.
With an Italian traffic cop directing our gaze, we look down one street and see Roberto Benigni as a man who suddenly becomes one of the celebrities he and his wife always obsess over in the tabloids and the evening news. After climbing over a few rows worth of Hollywood royalty to accept his Oscar, Benigni has been mostly written off in this country. But I would argue that his appearance in this film proves to be some of the smartest casting of Allen’s career, giving Benigni a chance to return to the Buster Keaton-esque performance style that won him the Oscar and reveals him to be one of the more talented comic actors working today.
Look down another street and you’ll find Woody Allen himself as a retired opera director who, upon being introduced to the parents of his daughter’s Italian fiancé, discovers that the father is a talented opera singer. Unfortunately, this undiscovered voice only seems to work when the man is singing in the shower. How Allen works around this minor obstacle is easily the film’s funniest ongoing gag.
Add to these stories two depictions of young love endangered by ill-fated lusts and infidelities, populated by promising young actors like Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, and Ellen Page, and you have a movie chock full of richly drawn characters and delightfully funny situations. Top it all off with veterans Alec Baldwin and Penelope Cruz sweeping in and stealing one scene after another and you have a film that is not to be missed. It will be nice to see Allen return to his New York stomping grounds, but I, for one, am a little sad to see these European escapades come to an end.
- Stephen Jannise, Film Program Director – Austin Film Festival