I am under the firm belief that you have to see a Woody Allen movie at least twice to appreciate it. The man writes, directs, and sometimes acts in his pictures, so he has full control of his art and there is a point and a fluidity to everything he does, so it makes sense that you won’t catch everything he lays down the first time around. Let’s look at the trailer for his newest film, To Rome With Love.
So after that introduction, let me just say that I very much enjoyed To Rome With Love, even more so than I enjoyed last year’s Midnight in Paris. On the surface, Allen’s movies are charming. They are picturesque, they are in love with their surroundings, and they tell quaint stories with what would seem like morals. They employ a wise sort of humor that attracts older audiences and they make no apologies for their neurosis.
Those morals are actually commentaries, and the commentary of To Rome With Love is our culture’s (or every culture’s) obsession with appearances or fame.
There are four stories that weave throughout To Rome With Love.
- Jesse Eisenberg falls for the sexual, pseudo-intellectual Ellen Page, despite his dependable girlfriend Greta Gerwig and the protestations of his older, wiser inner self, Alec Baldwin.
- Alison Pill falls for a hot Roman guy and brings her neurotic New Yorker parents, Judy Davis and Woody Allen, over to meet her new fiancé and his parents. The Roman father, who cremates for a living, also happens to have an amazing opera voice, which Woody Allen wants to put to use so he can come out of retirement which he equates with death.
- A cute, Italian newlywed couple comes to Rome in hopes of making a better life there. The man is uptight and prudish, and the girl is sweet and naïve. She gets lost trying to find a hair salon, and isn’t there in time to meet his rich uncles. Luckily, hooker Penelope Cruz comes into their room by accident and is mistaken for his wife, so he forces her to continue the charade. Meanwhile, the little wife runs into “the sexiest man in all of Rome,” an overweight movie star and debates going to bed with him. At the end of the day, both commit adultery and then decide to go back to their little life in their little town. But Penelope Cruz taught him how to be better at sex, so they’re all better for it. Or something?
- Lastly, a boring, middle-class Roman man is suddenly famous for no reason at all. He is hassled day and night by the media, has sex with whomever he wants, and is very important. He is driven crazy by this until one day it stops, and then he misses it dearly.
This movie is funnier than Midnight in Paris, which is probably why I enjoyed it more. The interactions between Baldwin, Eisenberg, and Page are laugh-out-loud funny. Ellen Page! You are a star, darling. This role was written for you. In fact, everything is funny and all of the acting is spectacular. Everything is beautifully shot, and Allen has not lost a step as an actor—he shows himself no mercy as a neurotic father.
If the acting and direction are great, that leaves the flaw in one place: the writing. Allen hits his theme a little hard over the head on this one. The dialogue is sometimes unnatural (poor Alison Pill has to actually say, “I resent your tone with my father,” in the middle of a conversation as if that were completely normal), the themes are stated aloud with too much ham, and some of the jokes drag. The writing was done with a heavy hand where it needed a light touch. Midnight in Paris had the same problem around the end, but To Rome With Love is guilty of it throughout.
The “lesson,” in this age of Kardashian fame, is that we are all obsessed with the wrong things. We are “imbecilles,” as Allen’s character proudly and stupidly (funny how those two go hand in hand) pronounces in Italian. The small towns, dependable girlfriends, shopping mall architecture, quiet lives with good sex—those are things to be admired and sought after.
Yet even if we do, life will still sometimes be unsatisfying. A little bit like this movie.