After the great, sweet and nostalgic Midnight in Paris garnered much critical and audience praise last year, not to mention an Oscar nod, Woody Allen’s new found zest for European jaunting was finally accepted and embraced by his fans and detractors. The New Yorker who found his mojo in the Paris of the 30s with his last effort falls flat on his bespectacled face with his latest, To Rome With Love. Although all the ingredients are there on the table Allen finds no way of combining them all and the whole thing becomes a bit of a disjointed mess with flourishes of vintage crazy Woody.
We’ve got a bevy of Americans in Rome who are architects, actors, a family of Romans who are morticians, one in particular with dreams of being a tenor, promiscuos students, prostitutes, cheats and robbers. Multiple threads of stories which ridiculously never tie together. There’s the typical younger Woody Allen clone this time played by Jessie Eisenberg, torn between a safe homely love and an intellectual dangerous love; A sure staple of any Allen film. There’s the case of mistaken identity where by a man must substitute his wife for an unknown prostitue (Penelope Cruz) in order to save face with his parents. His real wife meanwhile heads out into the city, lost to mingle with actresses and actors, a morally trip which holds no significance.
It’s pretty hard to imagine what Allen was thinking. In a way To Rome With Love almost harks back to his more slapstick episodical efforts and in truth the best section of the film comes from the type of absurdist comedy that Allen first became famous for. A bizarre story where a mild mannered worker (Roberto Benigni) wakes up one day and is the most famous man in Rome. He is interviewed about his breakfast and shaving, his most recent hair cut and all of the mundane aspects of a very regular life. Other aspects of fame, criticism and stardom are touched on here too but with little resonance.
Sadly the one good story sticks out in a film where the entire cast, Allen included, seem to be working against it. Woody plays Woody as always as the father of Haley (Alison Pill) who will soon be marrying the son of a closet wannabe opera singer and who eventually insists on getting the man on stage despite the fact that he can only sing in the shower. The rest of the blasé infidelities studied in To Rome With Love are luke warm and generally unfunny at best serving no purpose at all when slammed between the more absurdist influences of Allen’s early work. Maybe he should hope a train back to Paris. Actually, I hear Barcelona is quite nice this time of year.