To Rome with Love-attachment0

To Rome with Love

Movie Information

The Story: Woody Allen drops in on four intercut stories that take place in Rome. The Lowdown: Witty, clever and frequently brilliant, Allen's latest is a fine, entertaining film from a master filmmaker — and a still sharp comedian.
Score:

Genre: Comedy
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Alison Pill, Penelope Cruz
Rated: R

The big question that seems to plague Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love is whether or not it’s as good as last year’s Midnight in Paris. The answer — if you go by critical consensus — is no, but I’m skeptical of judging movies based on review aggregators these days. I’m even more skeptical when we’re dealing with a filmmaker coming off a hugely successful film (tearing down last year’s hit-maker is a favorite pastime)—and if the filmmaker is Woody Allen, you can double my skepticism. My own take is that the two films aren’t really comparable, but if we must weigh one against the other, I’d say that what To Rome with Love lacks in viewer-friendliness, it more than makes up in ambition — and that ambition pays off more often than not. And if you get right down to it, this might have more solid laughs than its much praised predecessor.

Allen gives us four separate stories that take place in Rome. What makes this unusual is that the stories are intercut, but not interconnected. Apart from taking place in Rome—the stories are supposedly being told by a traffic cop — the stories have nothing to do with each other, nor are the time-frames related. Now, that probably sounds awkward, but if you simply go with it, it’s not. In fact, I was surprised by how smoothly it cut together and how the shift from one story to the next and back again always felt right. In a similar vein, the film’s occasional leaps into fantasy struck me as perfectly judged without being calculated, making the whole thing feel more intuitive than consciously clever.

The four stories commence when Hayley (Alison Pill—Zelda Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris) gets directions — and more — from handsome Italian Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). Soon she’s engaged to him, with her parents, Jerry (Allen) and Phyllis (Judy Davis) flying to Rome to meet their prospective son-in-law and his family. In another story, middle-aged architect, John (Alec Baldwin), wanders off in search of where he spent his youth and finds young architect Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) who lives with his girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig). The third story involves a pair of newlyweds, Antonio (Allesandro Tiberian) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronadi), who’ve come to Rome on their honeymoon with the hopes that Antonio will be able to move up in the world with a new job. The final story is a Felliniesque comic nightmare about a boring middle-class schnook (Roberto Benigni) who inexplicably becomes famous for no apparent reason and finds his life turned upside down.

As the film plays out, each story finds its own set of complications. Jerry, an unwillingly retired producer of avant-garde opera, thinks he’s found a great new talent in his daughter’s soon-to-be father-in-law (Fabio Armiliato), only to discover that the man can only sing in the shower (which, however, is not an insurmountable obstacle to a man who once staged an opera with all the characters dressed as white mice). Jack and Sally find their domestic bliss upset by the arrival of Sally’s best friend, Monica (Ellen Page), to whom Jack — despite apparent magical counseling from John — becomes unwisely attracted. The newlyweds become separated and Antonio becomes mixed up with a hooker (Penélope Cruz), who ends up having to pose as his wife, while Milly gets involved with a famous actor. All the while, the Benigni character only wants his boring life back — or does he?

Most of it works and on the occasions where it doesn’t quite, it soon rights itself. The biggest surprise here is that it takes a couple of scenes before Allen seems to settle comfortably into his character, but once he does, he’s completely on his game. Perhaps the most engaging character, though, is Baldwin’s John, who may or may not be real—and who may or may not, for that matter, be an older version of Jack. It’s all fast on its feet with smart, funny dialogue and effortless elegance. It’s one of the most engaging films of the year. Rated R for some sexual references.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

32 thoughts on “To Rome with Love

  1. Tonberry

    I can’t quite go and give a five-star like praise to Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love” like you, though his new movie is still good. I am definitely on the side of those critics who claim that “Midnight in Paris” is better (it being my most watched movie of last year). And though I am trying not to compare the two, I think my love for the other makes “To Rome with Love” a bit of a let down.

    To get to what I didn’t like, are those little bits of time the movie goes flat. I just can’t quite forgive them like you can. And this distresses me. When the film is in its “zone,” it does become highly comical, but when it isn’t, there is a slight artificial quality to it than I am just not into. Of all four stories, the one that’s not stuck with me very much is of the newlyweds that get separated and then high jinks ensue. It’s few laughs with an ok story. And then there is Roberto Benigni’s Leopoldo story. I like its message, but the story itself is stretched out more than it needs to be.

    I agree with you that Woody Allen himself and his storyline has something of a weak start, but it ends up being really well done. This idea of how we sing better in the shower and if only somehow we could set up that gift for the world to see, is an idea that I love, and I almost flirt that it is the best in the movie.

    But of course, Alec Baldwin (worth seeing “To Rome with Love” for his performance alone) and Jessie Eisenberg’s tale is the movie’s most well-rounded. At first I thought at times it had the most of that artificialness that I dislike, but then the more I thought about, the more that it is actually essential to this narrative and made me appreciate it that much more.

    “To Rome with Love” is good, but not quite great. I only really got into Woody Allen movies when you screened “Manhattan,” and since have sought out more of his filmography. Of what I’ve seen, there would be ones I would want to see again and again. I can’t really say I’d add “To Rome with Love” on that list.

  2. Ken Hanke

    To get to what I didn’t like, are those little bits of time the movie goes flat. I just can’t quite forgive them like you can.

    I’m not forgiving them. I simply think they’re so brief as to be negligible. What I find interesting is I was sitting next to you at the screening and your response to what was going on on the screen didn’t reflect a great deal of dissatisfaction.

    This idea of how we sing better in the shower and if only somehow we could set up that gift for the world to see, is an idea that I love,

    If only we had gotten proof that Woody sounds like Eartha Kitt in the shower.

    Of what I’ve seen, there would be ones I would want to see again and again. I can’t really say I’d add “To Rome with Love” on that list.

    For aesthetic appreciation always a little time…

    And you used that word processing program again that makes me have to go in and clean up little boxes where all your apostrophes and quoation marks are, didn’t you?

  3. Tonberry

    What I find interesting is I was sitting next to you at the screening and your response to what was going on on the screen didn’t reflect a great deal of dissatisfaction.

    If I come off as someone who disliked “To Rome with Love” I wasn’t trying to be because do I find the film to be good. I wanted to point out that while it can be really funny and engaging, not all of it is on that level, making it somewhat inconsistent. None of it causes me great dissatisfaction. Reflecting back on it, its only the newlywed story that I find myself thinking as the movies weakest — which still has a few laughs! Maybe if I said this is more of a 4 star movie for me and a 5 for you, you might see where I am coming from?

    And you used that word processing program again that makes me have to go in and clean up little boxes where all your apostrophes and quoation marks are, didn’t you?

    I am copying and pasting from Microsoft Word, I suppose the Xpress comment box is not pleased by this. I will try to figure out a way to fix it, as I only want to give you but so much heartbreak.

  4. Ken Hanke

    If I come off as someone who disliked “To Rome with Love” I wasn’t trying to be because do I find the film to be good.

    When you include the idea that you’ll probably not see it again, that, to me, is getting close to disliking it. Actually — and this will seem strange coming from me — I feel like you’re over-analyzing the film.

    So was what you just posted above copied from MS Word? It isn’t full of odd characters.

  5. Xanadon't

    Gotta admit, I’m interested to see if this is nearer to 5-star-Crimes and Misdemeanors5-star or 5-star-Whatever Works-5-star.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Probably the latter. That’s to say that it has little claim to being anything other than a comedy. I don’t personally find anything wrong with that.

  7. Xanadon't

    I certainly don’t find anything wrong with that either– so long as its actually funny and inventive. I didn’t find Whatever Works to be either of those, myself. But I see much more promise here, so far as my own tastes go. And actually, much as I’ve grown to really like Midnight in Paris, no, I wouldn’t be all too surprised to find To Rome With Love every bit as agreeable. The plan is to find out Monday.

    Hey Ken, do we know yet if/when the Fine Arts is closing for any amount of time to Go Digital?

  8. Ken Hanke

    This is what it says in the Fine Arts Newsletter: “This week we open the new Woody Allen film, TO ROME WITH LOVE (Opening Upstairs), and we keep MOONRISE KINGDOM. This schedule will run through July 26th. We’ll be closed the following week, Bele Chere usually closes us down for the weekend, but this year we’re closed for the entire week to convert to Digital Cinema. We’ll re-open on August 3rd.”

  9. Me

    Is this the sequel to the John Travolta film? I wish Woody would have went with he original title.

  10. Me

    Looks like they are coming back August 3 with Beasts of the Southern Wild, and i see that they are going to get the Rodriguez doc.

  11. Xanadon't

    Looks like they are coming back August 3 with Beasts of the Southern Wild

    This one has had your attention for some time now, no? It looks to me to be one of few upcoming releases that would suggest an immediate draw strong enough to kick out a Woody Allen flick as early as August 3rd. I have a hard time believing that Moonrise will go anywhere that soon, as well as it’s doing.

  12. Ken Hanke

    That’s a hard call on Moonrise, but I will say that it’s done business that outdoes any art title business in living memory. The Carolina even has it in the biggest theater at this point.

    I wish I could get enthused about Southern Wild, but nothing about it attracts me. It looks painfully indie to me. Perhaps it will be a pleasant surprise. There are two movies coming down the pike in the near future that I never expected to like — and one of them I liked a lot (Your Sister’s Sister) and the other I might well love (Safety Not Guaranteed). So…who knows?

  13. Xanadon't

    Well that’s good news- especially since Safety Not Guaranteed is the one I’m unsure about. I’m all but positive that I’m going to thoroughly enjoy Your Sister’s Sister. The trailer (I’m a bit embarrassed to admit) is exactly the kind I’m a sucker for, and seemingly for -I’m less embarrassed to admit- exactly the kind of movie I’m a sucker for.

    As for Southern Wild, I’m a bit incredulous myself.

  14. Tonberry

    When you include the idea that you’ll probably not see it again, that, to me, is getting close to disliking it.

    I admit after this little exchange of ours, a feeling has come up to see it again. I’ll give it some time.

    So was what you just posted above copied from MS Word? It isn’t full of odd characters.

    That’s right, I usually respond to what you have said in the comment box pretty quickly. It’s when I write out my thoughts on a film I’ve seen lately I’ve used MS Word (and copy/paste). Perhaps I’ll switch back to Google Docs.

  15. Big Al

    TRWL was definately too ambitious, especially in trying to tell four seperate stories at once, and one of them a subtitled foreign-language one, which I hate as I have difficulty watching the subtleties of the acting AND read the (often poorly translated) subtitles at the same time. I usually watch such films on DVD so I can rewind and re-watch things that would other wise get by me.

    The pace was too slow and I actually fell asleep watching about 3/4 the way in.

    I think Allen would have been better off taking the Baldwin/Eisenberg/Page/Gerwin story and making an entire movie of it, a la “Midnight in Paris”, maybe call it “Twilight in Rome” (meaning the Baldwin character’s twilight phase of life, not vampire s#!t).

    The Penelope Cruz story would also have made a good film all by itself, although I suspect the “substitute wife” plot has already been done (and I am sure someone out there will remind me of when and how).

    The story about unwanted(or was it..?) fame went over my head and was probably the brake that slowed things down enough to send me to dreamland. Ditto the wife+movie star bit. The Allen/opera story was cute but too silly and unrealistic to share company the good stuff.

    All in all, a mixed bag and nowhere near the quality of MIP. Of course, some works are so good that the follow-up work will always be found wanting. “Cold Mountain” (the book, not the film) comes to mind.

  16. Ken Hanke

    definately too ambitious, especially in trying to tell four seperate stories at once

    That’s what they said to D.W. Griffith after Intolerance in 1916.

  17. Me

    Im probably looking forward to Saftey Not Guaranteed more Xanadon’t.

    Ken what makes Beasts look painfully indie? I was listening to an interview with the director on Elvis Mitchell’s show and they were talking about how it was the opposite of everything else that was indie at the festivals. A lot of stuff flying at the screen and filled with extras.

  18. Big Al

    “That’s what they said to D.W. Griffith after Intolerance in 1916.”

    Not being familliar with the film, and only anecdotally with Griffith, was this an accurate criticism of that work?

    I can only think of one film that succeded (somewhat) in telling several stories with a commmon theme simultaneously that did not suffer from diluting each, and that was “Love Actually”, and even then one of the stories (the one around Kiera Knightly) was so weak that I cannot remember what the point of it was. I also liked “Crazy, Stupid Love”, but it was clear to me that the seperate storylines would eventually merge, so it really does not fall into the same catagory.

    The success of Midnight in Paris was it’s focus on one story and one protagonist supported by an ensemble cast of characters. I hope Allen will follow this formula again, and soon.

  19. Ken Hanke

    Ken what makes Beasts look painfully indie? I was listening to an interview with the director on Elvis Mitchell’s show and they were talking about how it was the opposite of everything else that was indie at the festivals. A lot of stuff flying at the screen and filled with extras.

    “A lot of stuff flying at the screen and filled with extras” strikes you as automatically in its favor? The film appears to be chockful of jittery-cam, for one thing. There’s this too heavy reliance on just lingering on the kid’s face. Too much wallowing in grottiness for its own sake. And the whole thing just gives off that “Sundance darling of the year vibe.” I hope I’m wrong. I’d like it to be wonderful, but I’m cautious to say the least.

    Dont you think Nero Fiddled was a better title for this film?

    Not from the standpoint of drawing an audience, no.

  20. Ken Hanke

    Not being familliar with the film, and only anecdotally with Griffith, was this an accurate criticism of that work?

    Well, I was more or less being facetious, but it did confuse 1916 audiences. Of course, it’s now generally considered one of the “great films.”

    I can only think of one film that succeded (somewhat) in telling several stories with a commmon theme simultaneously that did not suffer from diluting each, and that was “Love Actually”, and even then one of the stories (the one around Kiera Knightly) was so weak that I cannot remember what the point of it was.

    I’d say it succeeded completely, but I’m pretty sure I like the concept more than you do.

  21. Xanadon't

    Perhaps the most engaging character, though, is Baldwin’s John

    Certainly. And real or not, he’s also the most recognizably human in a deeper sense than anyone else on screen, many of whom are propped up with the principle purpose being that we laugh at or scrutinize them to various degrees. This isn’t a criticism, by the way. But I am thankful that the voice of wisdom, humility, regret- everything embodied by Baldwin’s character- was included and To Rome With Love definitely would’ve been a lesser film without it.

    Oddly, while his character often overtly expresses a cynical view of commonly held notions about romantic love (or really just efficiently dispels much disillusion and mystification) , it’s actually his very presence that keeps this sort of anti-romance of a film from becoming something akin to depressing at times.

    The main reason I think this film succeeds as well as it does is because, despite its flights of fancy, this one really has some teeth. I thought Allen did a good job balancing the satirical and fanciful tones that the movie offers.

    Oh, and I didn’t have any problem with the separate narratives at all. Usually with this kind of structure there will be instances where I feel I’ve been ripped away from a story-line prematurely. Just as often when I’m returned to a story-line, I’ll feel momentarily out of sorts and feel a need to re-orientate myself or regather my thematic bearings. Not the case here.

  22. Ken Hanke

    I am thankful that the voice of wisdom, humility, regret- everything embodied by Baldwin’s character- was included and To Rome With Love definitely would’ve been a lesser film without it.

    I spent a good deal of the movie wishing that I’d had him for advice at more than a couple of points in my life. (Justin can vouch for the fact that I mentioned this during the film.) I realize, of course, that I would have ignored him fully as much as Jesse Eisenberg.

    his very presence that keeps this sort of anti-romance of a film from becoming something akin to depressing at times.

    I think this is true — and yet what I think was his last line was pretty disheartening.

    Oh, and I didn’t have any problem with the separate narratives at all. Usually with this kind of structure there will be instances where I feel I’ve been ripped away from a story-line prematurely. Just as often when I’m returned to a story-line, I’ll feel momentarily out of sorts and feel a need to re-orientate myself or regather my thematic bearings. Not the case here.

    Well, we appear to be on different pages with Whatever Works and Moonrise Kingdom, but pretty completely in accord on this one.

  23. Me

    A lot of stuff flying at the screen, not necessarily in its favor just something you don’t see in a lot of small independent movies.

    At this point in Woodys career he doesn’t need to draw an audience.

  24. Ken Hanke

    At this point in Woodys career he doesn’t need to draw an audience.

    Yes, that’s why his only big hit since the turn of the century was Midnight in Paris.

  25. Big Al

    “At this point in Woodys career he doesn’t need to draw an audience.”

    “Yes, that’s why his only big hit since the turn of the century was Midnight in Paris.”

    Good directors shouldn’t do great work because they NEED to (if they do, they direct TRANSFORMERS, guaranteed payout) but because they WANT to.

    Or is making crap that only a few elitists understand and buy tickets for the “in” thing now?

    Allen’s CRITICAL (as well as financial) success with Midnight in Paris leads me to believe he still desires greatness for its’ own sake, not just to sell-out for a pay-out.

    Granted, I am not a movie critic, but I thought Midnight in Paris was brilliant IN SPITE of its’ box office success and staying power. That is why I had such high hopes for “To Rome..” and think Allen tried but just fizzled, rather than deliberately coasted on former glory.

    Or am I just drinking the Kool-Aid?

  26. Ken Hanke

    Or is making crap that only a few elitists understand and buy tickets for the “in” thing now?

    It’s always been the in thing in certain quarters.

    I don’t think you’re wrong — except that I don’t think the new film fizzled in the least. I wasn’t suggesting anything about coasting on a former success. The film would be the same by either title, but using a title that calls to mind your two best received films — Vicky Christina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris — simply makes sense. And really does Nero Fiddled describe the film better? I’d say no.

  27. Me

    As far as Midnight in Paris goes i guess sometimes the public can get it right, thats probably what happened with that film.

  28. Ken Hanke

    It would be really remarkable if the public could be wrong 100% of the time. I admit that things like Transformers do suggest the possibility.

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