“To Rome with Love”
By MICHAEL WALTERS
“To Rome with Love” marks a return to the usual latter-day Woody Allen output after last year’s surprisingly lively and Oscar Winning “Midnight in Paris.”
This time, Woody’s turned his camera lens on Rome to examine four separate stories of people living among its ancient streets. Some of them work better than others. The only thing refreshing is that these stories aren’t interconnected.
But let’s not sell Woody short, he does have a few inherently amusing ideas to build on here. Woody himself returns to the screen for the first time since 2006′s “Scoop,” and seems to be refreshed by the break. His one-liners as a neurotic recently retired music manager in Rome to visit his daughter and her new boyfriend have more pop to them than they have in years. When he discovers the boyfriend’s father singing in the shower, he hatches an unconventional plan to take the undiscovered talent straight to the top. It’s really a one-joke story, but it’s a pretty funny joke that doesn’t outlive its usefulness.
The strongest story involves Alec Baldwin as a rich architect who returns to Rome on vacation. He goes walking in his old neighborhood and runs into a young architect (Jesse Eisenberg) who reminds him of himself at that age and attempts to impart some well- honed wisdom. This story bears many of the marks of classic Woody, but also many of the faults of latter day Woody too. From there Baldwin becomes an omnipresent figure, the angel on the shoulder of Eisenberg warning him of trouble ahead, as his girlfriend’s unstable best friend (Ellen Page) drops by to stay for a few weeks. Through all of this there’s Baldwin acting like a classic Woody figure commenting on scenes within the scene. But this is also the story where much of Woody’s dialogue seems lifted from earlier Woody Allen movies.
Woody has less luck with Roberto Begnini as an average middle class Italian who suddenly becomes famous for no reason at all. So the ordinary family man suddenly faces paparazzi reporting on his shaving habits and his choice in breakfast foods becomes breaking news. It’s a toothless commentary on celebrity and there’s nothing that hasn’t been said by others countless times before. It’s mildly amusing, but not really all that funny. And its one joke isn’t enough to sustain it.
All in all, this is a return to the slowly diminishing returns we’ve come to expect from Woody over the years. While he rarely makes a truly awful movie these days, most are this sort of safe middle of the road time fillers that won’t make you stupider for having watched them. But you won’t get much stimulation from them either.