To Rome With Love

WRITTEN BY: Woody Allen
DIRECTED BY: Woody Allen
STARRING: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Paige, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Roberto Benigni, Alessandra Mastronardi, Judy Davis, Fabio Armiliato
RATING: 3 stars

In one scene in To Rome With Love, Woody Allen's character says to his wife that he could never be a Communist because he can't even share a bathroom. This is the kind of humour audiences have come to love and expect from Allen's films. Speaking of bathrooms, I'd like to think of To Rome With Love as an odd homage to anyone who likes to sing in the shower because, thanks to Allen's uniquely warped mind, he's created a world in which a man who only has the confidence to sing in the shower can actually perform for an audience doing just that. It's also a world where a man can become famous for no reason at all (surprisingly, even less reason than why the Kardashians are famous) and suddenly everyone wants to know what he had for breakfast. To Rome With Love is ambitious, random, witty and a fun critique on celebrity culture.

The film uses the Italian capital as the backdrop to four stories. The best involves Allen himself playing Jerry, a retired opera director visiting Rome with his wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) to meet their daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) and her fiance Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). But when Jerry overhears Michelangelo's father Giancarlo (real-life opera tenor Fabio Armiliato) singing in the shower, he decides it's his chance to work again and tries to convince the man to give up his career as an undertaker and become an opera singer. In another story, Jack (Alec Baldwin) relives his past. His younger self is played by Jesse Eisenberg who portrays the kind of character Allen would have played in his younger years. He wants to be an architect and is living with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig). But everything goes pear-shaped when her friend Monica (Ellen Paige) comes to Rome and Sally invites the seductress to stay with them.

In the third plot, Antonio and Milly (Alessandro Tiberian and Alessandra Mastronardi) are newlyweds who have just moved to Rome and become separated when she gets lost. Milly has an encounter with her favourite movie star Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese) while Antonio unexpectedly meets a prostitute named Anna (Penelope Cruz). His relatives find them in a compromising situation so he has to pretend she is his wife. In the final story, an ordinary man named Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) becomes famous overnight and is followed everywhere by paparazzi, making his life difficult.

Allen attracts great actors to his films and usually draws fantastic performances out of them. Unfortunately, this time Paige is miscast as the seductress. The intent to cast her against type is obviously there, but I just found her to be her usual awkward self, which is fine, but not right for the character. Baldwin's role is also vague and not properly explained. However, my main criticism of the film is that the timeline is jumbled. One story spans a couple weeks while another covers a few days and another seems to last just a day. It doesn't flow. There's also a little too much cheating going on in this film, which isn't taken too seriously, and might put off some people. But then, it is a comedy.

To Rome With Love is the first film Allen has acted in since 2006's Scoop. It's also another recent film in which he has moved away from New York as a background, in favour of Europe. Unfortunately, To Rome With Love does not compare to hits like Midnight In Paris, but then, for a 76-year-old film-maker who has made a film almost every year since the 60's, I think even a mediocre Allen film is still better than most other films that examine love and relationships. At least it's funny and original.