As we know, no one (NO ONE) falls in love with cities as hard and as well as Woody Allen does. While most of us are still inclined to think of him as the quintessential New York filmmaker (no one can really blame us, with Annie Hall, Manhattan and Hannah And Her Sisters under his belt), the man has been on a tour of the great European cities since 2005: flirting with them, taking them on dates, making them the Woody Allen version of them, so to speak. I have been a huge fan of those last seven years of cinematic work (Scoop aside) and am thrilled to report that To Rome With Love is a perfectly sweet cherry on top of the European capital sundae Allen has been building for us. It is flawed and somewhat artificial for sure, but it hits all the right spots at the right time.
As you noticed from the opening paragraph, it is nearly impossible to talk about Allen’s work without mentioning OTHER Allen’s works. This is probably because Allen is a genre by himself; words like “romance” or “comedy” or “drama” never really do his movies full justice. In this case, we have a frothy romantic comedy/fantasy where the time/space-continuum rules don’t apply in any way we’ve grown to expect, and the affairs of the heart and neurotic mind, as expected, reign supreme. What better place to explore magical realism and all the freedoms it could allow a filmmaker than in Rome?
The storylines are myriad and evenly charming, although they’re unevenly successful. An eager young architecture student (perfectly earnest Jesse Eisenberg) is caught between the responsible romantic choice (Greta Gerwig playing down her universal appeal yet again) and the neurotic/more-appealing one (Ellen Page, perfectly crazy). A young couple is on honeymoon from a small town, both of whom fall pray to sexual offerings of the big, bad city. A young American woman (Allison Pill) and an Italian man fall in love ,and deal with the cultural differences between their families in the progress (hers are played by Judy Davis and Allen himself, in fine neurotic, vintage Allen mode). Oh, and Roberto Benignini’s living in the dream-or-is-it-a-nightmare world of celebrity.
All of these plots jump around as they wish, develop as they wish, take place over a single afternoon or a number of weeks (as they wish), and require general suspension of disbelief. It could have been a tricky task, if most of them were not quite so gosh darn adorable and you, the viewer, more than happy to spend time in their company.
The cast, obviously, is more than capable (on top of the people mentioned above, Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin and Ornella Mutti are all part of the gang too). Their dialogue is as snappy as ever and recalls vintage Allen (Don’t psychoanalyze me! Many have tried. All have failed.) You get a feeling that making this movie was a ball.
The overall vibe is that of a vacation you’ve been meaning to take in one of the best cities in the world; each storyline seems almost custom designed to showcase Rome: the winding little streets, the gorgeous ruins, the romantic fountains/views, and the glorious messiness of an ancient city operating in modern day. Sure, you get lost along the way (many of the characters do, too) but you have to trust your tour guide to finally lead you to the right spot. Which, in this case, he will. I promise.
At the end, you’ll walk out, big grin on your face, ready to discuss WHICH story was your favorite (in my case, it is a split between the singing undertaker and all the love triangles). You’ll be ready to quote your favorite moments despite the obvious flaws you have to admit to yourself: Allen did it again. At 76, he fell in love and successfully went courting again. Good for him (and Rome, and you).