I'm yet to see a film made by Woody Allen, which I can call bad. Not a single one out of his 42 feature films is unwatchable. Needless to say, I'm a huge fan. Yes, this is minor Woody. Nowhere near his best. He has made a few movies that don't please everyone. He's been fondled with criticism and accused of returning to form multiple times over the course of his 46 year-old directing career. This film definitely has a few minuses: the narration device used at the beginning and ending is rather tame and Greta Gerwig is criminally wasted. It is a combination of Anything Else (2003) and Celebrity (1998). Right. That's as far as my objectivity takes me, the rest of this review is going to be a Woody-vomit wherein I don't drink the water.
To Rome with Love tells 4 stories:-
Story 1: Jesse Eisenberg plays Jack, a young architect studying in Rome; he lives with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig). In comes Sally's friend, the forbidden fruit Monica (Ellen Page). Alec Baldwin plays John, the mentor who pops up whenever there is a neurotic crisis at hand. This makes up for some cheekily whimsical fluff that improves upon the misgivings of Anything Else. John is essentially the Woody Allen character from that film. My guess is he will come up with another old-man-guiding-young-man movie. Just like his several attempts at combining surreal fantasies with sharp wit, which finally hit the universal sweet spot with Midnight in Paris (2011). (Purple Rose of Cairo remains my favourite though)
Story 2: Jerry (Woody Allen) and his wife (Judy Davis) come to Rome to meet their daughter (Alison Pill). She finds her fantasy European romance and is getting married. Instead of being charmed by her fiance, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), Jerry finds a new voice in Michelangelo's father. He's a mortician, a simpleton who sings beautifully in the shower. Jerry wishes to be his manager and grant him a career out of his bathroom singing; Michelangelo feels his father will make a fool of himself. There are typical Woody quips like "He sings for pleasure, not money." "But there IS pleasure in money". (Hilare)
Story 3: Newlyweds- Antonio and Milly (Alessandro Tiberian and Allesandra Mastronardi) are meeting Antonios family and Milly is expected to be his trophy wife. Antonio is a classic case of the Madonna and the whore complex. His sexual repression leads him to the whore played by the molto bella Penelope Cruz. Milly has her fantasy realized when a famous actor falls for her.
Story 4: Roberto Bengini plays a middle class man who is so painfully ordinary that he may have never been noticed by anyone. Soon, his dormant wish is realized as he becomes famous. What he thinks about the weather and what he had for breakfast become national news. This story had the most potential but is the only one that becomes tedious and subsequently runs out of steam.
To Rome with Love is essentially about green grass. You will always want "that thing", the unattainable. All of these characters want more but don't really need it. Not everyone gets to sing Pagliacci or play Miss Julie on stage or sleep with an actor.
Woody Allen rehashes his subjects and presents them with new characters almost every year. This hit and trial method has worked mostly. The hits are: Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Husbands and Wives (1992), Bullets Over Broadway (1994), Match Point (2005) and Midnight in Paris (2011). There are several others I absolutely adore but these films typify his style and combine it with the best of moviemaking. Every film of his doesn't have to have a throne in cinematic history. That's 42 spots taken solely by him. Sounds pretty impossible to me. Thing is with Woody, it's never a miss. It's only "not a hit". His misses are also better than most films made in any given year. I have nothing to whine about especially when a movie loves being silly, almost swims in it and still ends up being more proficient than most films that claim to be comedies these days.
I have anointed Woody Allen as a certain best friend of mine. The best friend I never had (Yes, I know thats creepy but f*** you). Watching a movie of his is like being a part of an aesthetically rich, perceptive, thoughtful and personally rewarding 90-minute conversation with your best mate. For some weird reason, every new movie of his happens to be about the exact same thing I'm going through and I get great advice, like a good friend would offer. When you meet your friends, sometimes it isn't as fun as it could have been but it is just right. Nothing eventful happens that you would mark in the calendar of your life but it is just right to remind you why they are your friends in the first place. To Rome with Love is exactly that.