Sometimes it seems that this generation of film-lovers and pseudo/actual intellectuals, love to love Woody Allen even more than the director’s own generation do. From basing one’s sartorial schtick on Annie Hall, to quoting lines from Manhattan at dinner parties, Woody Allen’s earlier work is looked on with the kind of nostalgia that was so articulately captured by Owen Wilson’s character in Midnight In Paris, Woody Allen’s successful previous film- that is, people yearn for the past because it’s in the past. So it is with a heavy heart that this reviewer falls into that category of romantic reminiscence. This film is not that good. Midnight In Paris was good partly because it discussed themes (like nostalgia) with a light, yet insightful and charming hand. As opposed to the postcard-like efforts of To Rome With Love, which doesn’t discuss much, apart from the occasional clever glimpse at why the film is being made in the first place. As Judy Davis’s character puts it to her husband, Woody Allen’s character, “You equate retirement with death”.
The movie follows the separate stories of a newlywed couple who have just arrived in Rome (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi), an American architect (Alec Baldwin), an office worker (Roberto Benigni). As each narrative unfolds (within differently-spaced lapses of time), more characters are introduced. The provincial newlywed couple encounters a larger-than-life call girl (Penelope Cruz) and the architect runs into the younger version of himself; an architecture student (Jesse Eisenberg) who lives with his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) and her visiting temptress of a friend (Ellen Page). While much of the cast give restrained and expertly satirical performances, most have little to work with in the way of character depth. Despite being funny, the jokes often meander and drag out for an uncomfortable length of time.
Some Italian critics have criticised the film’s portrayal of their city as being that of a tourist’s, and it is. From the opening and closing use of song ‘Volare’ (you know the one, sound it out), to the typical, if pretty, scenic shots of the Trevi Fountain and such; Allen’s film is nothing if not an American’s lover letter to the ‘eternal city’. Which is fine. If you’re Woody Allen, you can pretty much do whatever you want anyway- and no doubt he’s never paid much attention to the critics. However, To Rome With Love feels too much like a first draft from someone intent on keeping busy- a jumbling of a bunch of different ideas, none of which seem fully realised.