wed 30/07/2014

To Rome With Love | Film reviews, news & interviews

To Rome With Love

Woody Allen hits rock-bottom in the last pitstop of his European tour

This has got to stop: Woody Allen (with Judy Davis) plays an avant-garde opera director in To Rome With LoveTo

Woody Allen plays tour operator (yet again) in the excruciating To Rome With Love, and the result is not a pretty sight. Oh, sure, the Eternal City looks great, in the manner of one of those vibrant, come-hither videos that one might expect at a travel convention. But continuing his pan-European jaunt that has taken in London (three times over), Barcelona, Paris, and now Rome, Allen hits close to rock bottom in a portmanteau effort in which the parts, not to mention the whole, don’t begin to add up.

Part of the deep frustration is one's sense of what the film aspires to be – a breezy bagatelle to mark the cinematic equivalent of sipping cappuccino on the Piazza Navona. But airiness and charm are two of the most difficult-to-achieve virtues, and they give way here to a thudding quartet of stories, only one of which seems to have been even vaguely thought through. And as for Allen acting in his own pictures? On the evidence here, that has got to stop.

The actor-writer-director plays Jerry, an avant-garde opera director (we’re told he specialises in atonality: hmm – no wonder this film has such a tin ear) who waves his arms around a lot and claims not to know the meaning of the word “imbecile”. Having made his reputation directing a production of Rigoletto famous for its white mice – huh? - Jerry's career is rejuvenated when he meets the father of the Italian lawyer whom his daughter has met while on a Roman stroll and – prestissimo! – has decided to marry.

Jerry couldn’t care less about his daughter’s intended, Michelangelo, a name that for some reason this supposedly cultured man cannot pronounce. (Huh again?) But Jerry is immediately taken by Michelangelo’s father, Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), a mortician who has a preternatural gift for singing but only in the shower.

At which point, cue plans for Jerry’s latest production, a staging of I Pagliacci that features this sweet but crowd-averse man, singing, you guessed it, in an onstage shower – and to adoring bravi from a sold-out house, if you please. Even the ENO at its most eccentric was never like this, though in context, it’s no surprise that the wonderful Judy Davis, playing Jerry’s therapist-wife, spends the entire film her mouth curdled in an expression of disgust. Husbands and Wives was many Allen movies ago.

'Turbulence': watch a (very bad) clip from To Rome with Love

Allen’s multiple narratives deal in various ways with the vagaries of success or of love and how quickly and easily both can fall away: laudable topics, to be sure, that are cheapened by the filmmaker’s inordinate crassness here. In a plot strand spoken entirely in Italian, Roberto Benigni (pictured below right) pops up as an office worker who is momentarily transformed by a deliberately inexplicable 15 minutes (or more) of fame only to be restored to grateful anonymity by the end: a reminder – as Allen has made clear countless times before – that life in the spotlight sucks.  

Elsewhere, Allen gets next to no comic mileage out of the story of a young Italian provincial (Alessandro Tiberi) in Rome with his clueless new wife, whose errant wanderings out into the city make possible the arrival at the man’s hotel of a prostitute who is then taken in error by the young man’s family as his new bride. The sequence reminds us of anew of the singular va-va-voom factor of Penélope  Cruz (pictured above left), playing the high-class hooker, though you wish she were allowed some of the spit and vinegar – the sense of character, even – that brought her an Oscar for Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Happier days.

Airiness and charm are two of the most difficult-to-achieve virtues, and they give way here to a thudding quartet of stories

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