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Monday, June 25, 2012

Review: TO ROME WITH LOVE



I believe it was Socrates who said, the unexamined life is not worth living; at 76 and with over forty films attributed to his name, Woody Allen has now examined his life and then examined himself examining his life. After Midnight in Paris -his most successful film in terms of revenue- Woody Allen takes a step back and returns to his more traditional depiction of neurotic characters observing, describing, philosophizing about, and suffering because of love, life, universal inconsequence, and - for the first time - Rome. 


To Rome With Love, is a collection of four vignettes all set in Rome. Each vignette could have been separate stand alone film. And some of them would have likely been more enjoyable that way. We are introduced to the four vignettes by a traffic cop; who from his pedestal in the middle of the road observes everything. Or so he claims. 

Traditionalist may criticize Allen for abandoning New York and “selling” to tourism boards that want to show off the most beautiful cities in the world - London (Match Point, Cassandra’s Dream), Barcelona (Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona) and Midnight in Paris (Paris)- but, personally, I like how my pseudo-intellectual self can relax and enjoy a Roman holiday alongside my giddy low-brow tourist self, while enjoying these romantic Euro locales, and conversing with characters as neurotic as... my neurotic self. 



The first story begins when a cute American tourist, Haley (Allison Pill), asks the handsome Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) for directions. If you know romantic comedies, you might think you know where this is going... but do you? By the next scene Haley and Michelangelo are engaged, and Haley's parents are on their way to Rome to meet the in-laws. Allen plays Haley's father Jerry, a retired opera director who suffers internally because he might die soon and hasn’t yet created his masterpiece. Jerry is desperate enough that he wouldn't hesitate sidetracking his daughter’s wedding if inspiration happens to stumble upon him in Rome. It does, and I’m just going to reveal that it involves someone (Fabio Armiliato) singing in the shower. 


A second vignette plays around with Italian stereotypes, specifically the local Roman ones. This time a newlywed couple from the Neapolitan countryside ( Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastornadi) arrives in Rome so She can meet His family. But due to the confusing nature of Rome streets, the couple is accidentally separated, just before the big family reunion. That afternoon, they each have their own adventures, He with a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) and She with a famous Italian movie-star (Antonio Albanese); although these adventures are not necessarily sexual.


There is also the story of an average Italian clerk from the middle class, Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), a schmuck if there ever was one. Leopoldo is caught off guard when suddenly, and for no apparent reason, everyone begins to treat him like a celebrity. Although the weakest story of the four, in the hands of Allen and Benigni the story takes a frisky and whimsical tone that provides for some good slapstick comedy. 

And finally, we have the more relatable - yet equally comedic - story of the four. It begins with a successful American architect (Alec Baldwin) on vacation. The architect used to live in Rome during his 20s. While he pays a visit to his old neighborhood, he runs into Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), an American expat who might as well be the younger version of himself. Jack lives with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig), who - very naively - invites her seductive and self-centered friend, Monica (Ellen Page), to stay with them for the summer. Monica is so secure about her sexual prowess that she tried to screw a gay dude just to see if she could make him straight. When she failed, it was her ego who suffered the heartbreak. 


Jack is automatically infatuated by Monica, and is willing to risk his relationship with Sally for a night with this fiery - and surprisingly philosophical - seductress. The material is somewhat cliché but Allen gives it a spin. Throughout Jack’s affair with Monica, the architect hovers around to deliver snarky, yet insightful, comments about the situation, not unlike that annoying guy that talks during the movies and tires to offer advice to the characters - advice he is fully aware they won't tale. Although, Jack seems to be aware of the architect’s presence, it is never revealed whether the architect is just in Jack’s imagination, or if the architect is just remembering his youth in Rome. For all you know it could be both. 

As i said, all the vignette’s could have been successful films - to various degrees - by themselves. But this last one, being the most complex and relatable would have been en par with Allen’s better works. Furthermore, Jesse Eisenberg was born to play a Woody Allen character; his could practically be a younger Allen himself. And Ellen Page’s calculated hyper-speech, that is now her trademark, works brilliantly to deliver Allen’s pseudo-philosophical rants. I hope to see both of them in a future Allen film soon. 

It most also be noted that the vignettes never interact with each other and that they do not follow one after the other. Instead they are edited together with no regards to time or continuity between them. The story of the newlyweds takes place in one afternoon, and the story of Jack and Monica takes place throughout a whole summer; while the one of Haley and Michelangelo’s parents probably spans six months, and Leopoldo’s adventures could all have been a dream in a single night. Such anachronistic editing only ads, in a positive manner, to the film's surreality. After all, these stories clearly takes place in the Rome of our fantasies and literature, not the actual city. 

Oh... Roma...


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