Mark Reviews Movies

To Rome with Love


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Woody Allen, Roberto Benigni, Alessandro Tiberi, Alessandra Mastronardi, Penélope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Alec Baldwin, Judy Davis, Fabio Armiliato, Alison Pill, Flavio Parenti, Greta Gerwig, Antonio Albanese

MPAA Rating: R (for some sexual references)

Running Time: 1:42

Release Date: 6/22/12 (limited); 6/29/12 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 28, 2012

While the title might sound like a letter to that eternal Italian city (It certainly looks lovely here), To Rome with Love is more a bittersweet missive to the regretful. With the film, Woody Allen (who wrote, directed, and has a prominent role as one of the unhappy visitors to Rome) seems to be saying that regret is the natural order of life.

If the argument sounds gloomy, it provides the perfect basis for the characters, who are comic foils to their respective emotional and psychological states. Some have reached low points in their lives; others are fast approaching them. Desperation, of course, is a gold mine of comic potential, so the film manages to stay light on its feet no matter what darkness weighs its characters down.

If Allen's aforementioned worldview sounds a bit pessimistic, it's countered by the fact that these characters emerge from their lows with a better understanding of themselves. They might not know it immediately, but they're on the right path. In one case, the character's head is so far in the clouds that he wouldn't be able to learn his lesson either way.

The whimsy begins with a police officer (Pierluigi Marchionne) directing traffic at a busy intersection before breaking the fourth wall and telling the audience about his beloved Rome and the multitude of stories the city holds (The film ends with a different narrator with his own set of stories, just so we know these people aren't alone in their troubles). We meet Hayley (Alison Pill), a tourist for the summer, who asks directions from Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), a resident with a fine command of the English language.

They begin dating and soon after are engaged to be married. Hayley's parents Jerry (Woody Allen, still able to deliver one-liners—jokes about turbulence and why his character isn't a communist stand out—with the best of them) and Phyllis (Judy Davis) fly in from New York for the wedding, and Jerry, unhappy with retirement (It's the last step before death), becomes obsessed with turning Michelangelo's father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), who sings beautifully when he's in the shower, into an opera singer. From the moment a perfectly timed "light bulb" moment appears on Jerry's face, the story revolves around a riotously ludicrous sight gag that forces the star of Jerry's experimental production of Pagliacci to remain stationary on stage.

Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) have just recently married and are spending their honeymoon in the capital. Milly also needs help with directions, though the people she meets are not as helpful as Michelangelo. She winds up wandering the streets, unable to find her destination or the way back to the hotel, and eventually stumbles upon a film crew working on a new movie starring Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese), who was recently named the sexiest man in Italy.

Meanwhile, Antonio answers a knock on the hotel room door and encounters Anna (Penélope Cruz), a prostitute who has been paid to provide her services to the man who's supposed to be in Antonio's room. The arrival of relatives who might hire Antonio for a promising new job means he must pretend Anna is his fiancée.

John (Alec Baldwin) is a successful architect in what appears to be a loveless marriage. He decides to find his old stomping grounds from his younger days and meets Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), who may or may not be John as a young man but is certainly going through a dilemma to which John can relate. Jack is living with Sally (Greta Gerwig); she loves him. Her friend Monica (Ellen Page), an actress with a penchant for making men fall in love with her, comes to stay with them. John knows how this ends and tries his hardest to serve as the conscience for the trio.

Finally, there's Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), an ordinary, working-class man who cannot hold anyone's interest even at discussions around the water cooler at work. One day, he awakens to find that he's famous for no reason except that reporters have decided he's famous. People become fascinated with such ordinary things as what Leopoldo had for breakfast and what style of underwear he prefers. A new life of television interviews, red carpets, and women eager to sleep with a celebrity awaits him.

Like the rest, Leopoldo is bound for a fall, and we watch with a sense of anticipation. There are slight variations in tone in each segment (though they all venture into the absurd), and while they don't necessarily directly impact each other, Allen subtly complements each with the rest. Save for the story of Jerry's attempt to recapture his former glory (which he cannot understand was never that glorious in the first place), temptation, especially of the sexual variety, is present in them all, and John's efforts to convince Jack not to throw away his relationship with Sally resonate with Leopoldo's extramarital activities, Antonio's deception, and Milly's infatuation.

Still, at the heart of each of the stories is the state of regretting what one did or did not do. At best, the characters are on the path to get to that point. The nature of that regret is unique to each of the characters (Even if, ultimately, they all get what they want and wind up disappointed in some way), but they all share something resembling growth by the end. To Rome with Love is a lark, for sure, but it's one that has some genuine wisdom just under the surface.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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