*This review contains spoilers*
I would struggle to make a list of Woody Allen films that I don't like at all. I laugh at slapstick efforts like Sleeper, and it's easy to watch Annie Hall or Play it Again Sam from the same period. Recent efforts have changed in tone considerably and critics seem to love one effort and dislike the next. I'm one of the few people who enjoyed You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, and I believe that Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris are two of the best films Allen has made in his entire career.
So how does To Rome With Love measure up?
I would say pretty well. As with most Allen efforts, the cast stands out. The film consists of four stories and each segment is worth your attention. I found myself laughing often, and that's quite rare.
One story stars Jerry (Allen) as an opera director who is ahead of his time. One of his productions was performed by actors dressed as white mice. He visits Rome with his wife (Judy Davis), to meet their daughter's fiance. Jerry's creative juices start flowing when he overhears the fiance's father singing in the shower and he attempts to persuade him to star in a future production. Although this segment has a rather predictable outcome, Allen has plenty of amusing dialogue.
Perhaps the most interesting of the stories is the one focusing on Jack (Eisenberg). He's an aspiring architect and lives with his girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig). His life is turned upside down when Sally asks her friend, Monica (Page), to stay with them for a while. I have to admit that Ellen Page can do no wrong in my eyes. I was captivated by Juno and look forward to everything she is involved with. I was particularly eager to see what Allen would do with her in their first collaboration together. My only complaint is that this segment wasn't longer. Eisenberg plays a young neurotic type that Allen would have played in the 1970s. I find Eisenberg a little annoying at times, but I enjoyed his scenes here. The story was improved considerably by the presence of Alec Baldwin, who plays an older, wiser version of Jack. He gives him advice throughout, and his one-liners steal the show. This technique, which breaks the fourth wall, is one of the most enjoyable things about the film.
The third segment tells the story of two young newlyweds, Antonio and Milly. The couple invite Antonio's parents to meet Milly, but she has become lost in the city. Instead, they meet Anna (Cruz), who is a prostitute who was meant to meet someone else, but ended up at Antonio's door. Antonio panics and asks Anna to pose as his wife. This is a pretty funny sequence and it gets better when they encounter Milly, who unwittingly has an adventure of her own. This part of the story is in Italian, so be prepared to read subtitles.
The final story is the weirdest of the four, but it probably made me laugh more than the others. We meet Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni). He's boring. He does the same thing every day, wakes up at the same time, passes the same neighbors, and does the same boring tasks in his boring job. Even his wife looks bored when they are in bed together. One morning, Leopoldo is engulfed by photographers and journalists as he leaves for work. He assumes they have the wrong man, but they are fascinated by him and want to know the smallest details about his mundane existence. He is even asked to appear on TV. Bemused at first, Leopoldo warms to the task, eventually coming to appreciate his fame. Then, just as suddenly, it's gone. I'm sure Allen is commenting on the way the media reacts in modern society, making unremarkable people briefly famous. Did he have reality TV in mind, I wonder?
The whole mix is enjoyable and a pleasure to watch. Writing this, I wish I could see it again right now. One minor complaint is that each story was given a complete resolution and it felt a little cumbersome. I wouldn't have minded if the characters had continued on with their lives and left me wondering a little.
If you are a fan of Woody Allen, it's hard to believe that you won't like To Rome With Love. No, it's not as good as Midnight in Paris, but it's still better than most of the movies released this year. Don't be put off by the critics. See it and make up your own mind. Which European city will Allen take us to next year?