2012. 112 minutes. Rated R.
“In Roma, all is a story.”
Why are Woody Allen movies always so entertaining? (Annie Hall, Deconstructing Harry, and Crimes and Misdemeanors among my favorites). Scenes are typically blended according to an array of characters involving themes both amusing and earnest: surreal encounters with prostitutes (Deconstructing Harry and To Rome With Love); moral ambivalence and struggle (Martin Landeau in Crimes in Misdemeanors); over-conspiring and falling through with murdering a mistress; and innocent acts of infidelity and/or carnal mischief that only seem to make Allen’s characters more endearing. Allen himself, as himself, is insufferably self-absorbed, yet hilariously precise in his sharp self-analysis and critique of those surrounding him. Is there anyone who doesn’t “LOL” three quarters of the way through of a Woody Allen movie? From what I’ve observed from most films, Allen has a special knack for:
A.) developing strongly neurotic characters who shine and somehow all seem to be clones of himself (kind of like when you have a dream and all the people you interact with are said to be you)
B.) presenting amusing real-life situations for these characters to obsess in
C.) adding a touch of magical realism or total surrealism and making it work. I’m thinking of Alice (her herbs en route to self-discovery), Deconstructing Harry (the director who could only see everything in a blur), Midnight in Paris (Owen Wilson’s character’s nocturnal soirees to various time periods guided by famous deceased authors and artists), and most recently, To Rome With Love.
Much of the “magic” in To Rome with Love is randomly woven into some of each of the main character’s perspective. This, along with the disjointed plot, is to be expected from Allen, and though confusing a bit, results in an entertaining picture. One such magical plot exploit is centered around the architect John (Alec Baldwin) who is revisiting an old section of Rome when he meets a younger career-doppleganger, Jack (Jesse Eisenberg). What proceeds between the two is a seemingly-normal tour led by John to see his old apartment and street, but soon becomes a peek into the romantic life of Jack with John’s ghost (no one can see him or talk to him except Jack) offering unsolicited advice and critiques, while an over-sexed, self obsessed, pretentious friend of Jack’s girlfriend comes to visit the two.
From John’s peanut gallery objections, we begin to think that perhaps what is really happening happened to him, perhaps during his stay in Italy, and that Jack and Monica’s tension is all not really happening … or is it? It is still not completely clear to me, but in any event, the scenes are hilarious and fun. I think it is something Allen nails in each one of his films, mainly because it gives us memorable scenes with unique characters experiencing real stuff, even if the plot is all over the place and ridiculous at times.
There are several other characters in love in Rome. The movie is introduced by a traffic officer, cliché in his Italianness, directing traffic while staring into the camera to introduce to us what he witnesses on the streets of Rome every day. There’s the normal couple, Italian Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) and American Hayley (Allison Pill), whose simple love is slightly challenged after her retired father, Jerry (Allen) and flippant shrink mother, Phyllis (Judy Davis) arrive to mesh with their Italian in-laws. Once Allen discovers Michelangelo’s father has a gifted singing voice for opera, he is pushy in convincing everyone, and dad, who just wants to sing in his shower.
Of course, Allen soon discovers that his talent can ONLY occur when he is in a shower, and so prepares to put on a show with him singing his way on stage. It’s pleasantly ridiculous and though slightly cringe-worthy to see Jerry successfully go through with this idea.
There’s the loving plain couple from the Italian countryside who come for the husband’s job, but are immediately overwhelmed by the modern cosmopolitan aspects of the city. The wife (Alessandra Mastronardi) gets lost while going out to fix her hair, missing a meeting with her new groom’s parents in a hotel room where the frisky call-girl Anna (Penelope Cruz) has erroneously planted herself in expectation of a client in said bridegroom hotel room.
In typical Allen fashion, what ensues is a goofy misunderstanding that, while it drags on, and appears completely unbelievable, is played out brilliantly by Cruz, who ends up teaching our simple bridegroom a few lessons to bring back to his wife later. His wife also experiences a seduction faux-pas, when she is accidentally seduced (okay, nearly seduced) by a famous male film star whom she naïvely adores to his face, agrees to go to lunch in his hotel room.
Once there, both are nearly robbed; discovered, he flees, resulting in her fling with the criminal. Thus, the young pastoral couple rejoin later in the film with lessons for each other. This was the most amusing attempt at minimizing infidelity and having everything “work out for the best” that I have ever witnessed!
Then there is Leopoldo Pisanello (Roberto Benigni), who is also living in a magic fantasy when his bland middle class life comes to a screeching halt when suddenly everyone in Rome begs to know what he ate for breakfast. This comical nod at celebrity obsession versus normal life–Mr. Benigni’s constant state of alarm and confusion–is depicted well by his naturally flamboyant acting style (which some may find insufferable).
To Rome With Love shows us an Italy that is both worldly and sophisticated (the fashion, celebrities, the modern day tourists) with some old school charm: characters from the Italian countryside, old classic (predictable) Italo-pop tunes, a humility in the native family uninterested in fame and success.
Despite such disparities in culture and characters, the binding element among these lovers, of every background, is that every one is simply trying to figure it out.