Film Review: To Rome With Love

Thinly conceived segments set in Rome represent a comedown for Woody Allen after the huge success of last year&#8217;s <i>Midnight in Paris</i>.

Following stops in London, Barcelona and Paris, Woody Allen’s European tour—partly motivated by better film-financing opportunities—continues with To Rome, With Love. But after the Oscar-winning box-office success of Midnight in Paris, this wispy collection of unrelated vignettes is a profound disappointment.

The scenery is a lot more sumptuous than the four meager antipasto choices Allen serves up. Allen himself appears for the first time onscreen since 2006’s Scoop as Jerry, a misunderstood opera director and the father of a young American woman (Alison Pill) who’s become engaged to Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), a handsome, leftist Italian lawyer she met while vacationing in Rome. When Jerry and his wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) meet the in-laws, Jerry is flabbergasted when he hears Michelangelo’s undertaker father (tenor Fabio Armiliato) belting out arias in a rich, robust voice while in the shower. Like that construction worker in the Chuck Jones classic “One Froggy Evening,” Jerry sees dollar signs in the sky, but unexpected complications await.

The other story with a major American presence has Alec Baldwin as celebrated architect John, who has a chance vacation encounter with Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), a worshipful architecture student. John bears witness and offers blunt advice as Jack becomes smitten with Monica (Ellen Page), the free-spirited friend of his current girlfriend, Sally (an ill-used Greta Gerwig). What’s left deliberately unclear is whether John is really there at Jack’s side or looking back at his own youthful indiscretions.

Unusual for a Woody Allen film, the other two segments features Italian actors speaking in their native tongue. Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi play Antonio and Milly, newlyweds from provincial Pordenone who, through a series of nutty complications, spend the day apart—he with a spectacular prostitute (Penélope Cruz) who winds up posing as his wife, she with a major Italian movie star (Antonio Albanese) filming in Rome.

The final, surreal sequence showcases Oscar winner Roberto Benigni as Leopoldo, a thoroughly ordinary office drone who one day finds himself swarmed by paparazzi and hailed as one of Italy’s top celebrities, his every mundane move scrutinized. Yes, we’ve all noted the current trend of people “famous for being famous,” but if Allen has anything more to say on the matter, it wound up on the cutting-room floor.

Each of these sequences is shockingly underdeveloped, as if they were fragments found in an old drawer that the veteran auteur thought were clever enough to leave in the concept stage. The film’s original title was Bop Decameron, hinting that Allen was inspired by Boccaccio’s collection of 100 terse tales, but that’s a much brisker experience than a 112-minute film with 20 minutes’ worth of ideas.

Allen’s own character kvetches so much about Communists and typical tourist complaints, it’s hard to believe he’s also a supposedly avant-garde director who staged Tosca in a phone booth. Eisenberg would seem the ideal Allen surrogate, but there’s a disconnect when we’re led to infer he’s a younger incarnation of the quite physically dissimilar Baldwin. The most vivid memories you take away from To Rome, With Love are Cruz in a va-va-voom red dress, the Allenesque sight gags that cap the opera-singer segment, and those seductive Rome locations that may have you booking an airline ticket and regretting the one you bought at the multiplex.