Monday, January 28, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—To Rome With Love (2012) ***

R, 112 min.
Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Judy Davis, Flavio Parenti, Roberto Benigni, Allison Pill, Alessandro Tiberi, Alessandra Mastronardi, Alec Baldwin, Antonio Albanese, Fabio Armiliato, Woody Allen, Jesse Eisenberg, Monica Nappo, Greta Gerwig, Penélope Cruz, Ellen Page

Woody Allen’s European fantasy adventures continue with his latest film “To Rome with Love”. Like his previous “Midnight in Paris”, this film is spun from a whimsy more reflective of his work in the 70s than most of his recent work. Also like last year’s film, this year’s is a virtual travelogue of the famed city from its title. Unlike “Paris”, he’s not content to tell just one story this time around. Here he gives us four.

One story involves a young architect who meets an older famous architect who is a personal hero. He then adapts the older architect as his own personal conscience on his complex personal life where the woman he lives with invites a girlfriend of hers to stay with them who is notorious for seducing men. He insists he can resist her. His older conscience knows better.

Another story is about Italian newlyweds from the country who are in Rome to celebrate their nuptials and possibly to settle. Through an odd series of circumstances they each learn about aspects of love they hadn’t imagined separately. He with a prostitute posing as his wife. She with an Italian movie star.

Allen himself appears in a story about a retired music producer who discovers a mortician who sings great arias in the shower. Unfortunately, that’s the only place he can sing, so the producer develops a show where the man appears on stage in an opera in a shower.

Finally, the most entertaining and analytical of the bunch is a story about an ordinary man who suddenly becomes famous for no apparent reason. Roberto Benigni stars as the man who learns about the difficulties of being a celebrity. The story also criticizes the ridiculous things the paparazzi reports for us to idolize about celebrities.

While it is just as charming as “Midnight in Paris”, this film isn’t quite as good. It’s funny in a chuckle under you breath type of way, without too many laugh out loud moments. It reminded me a great deal of some of Allen’s early anthology films, such as “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask”. He approaches his material from a more mature point of view than he did in the seventies; but, especially in the opera singer and celebrity stories, he attacks fairly oddball notions.

His cast, as usual, is impeccable. Alec Baldwin is wonderfully cast as the catty conscience to Jesse Eisenberg’s love torn architect. It’s a pleasure to see Allen himself on screen again. His quips are so sharp and delivered with no instruction to the audience. Each story features an Allen-esqe character—Eisenberg, the bundle of nerves Italian newlywed, and Benigni—but nobody plays Allen quite as well as Allen.

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