To Rome with Love

To Rome with Love featured image

Reviewed by Marc Glassman

To Rome with Love
Woody Allen, director and script
Starring: Woody Allen (Jerry), Alison Pill (Hayley, Jerry’s daughter), Judy Davis (Jerry’s wife), Flavio Parenti (Michelangelo, Hayley’s boyfriend), Fabio Armiliato (Giancarlo, Michelangelo’s father); Jesse Eisenberg (Jack), Alec Baldwin (John, Jack’s adviser), Greta Gerwig (Sally, Jack’s girlfriend), Ellen Page (Monica, Sally’s best friend); Roberto Benigni (Leopoldo); Alessandro Tiberi (Antonio), Alessandra Mastronardi (Milly, Antonio’s wife), Penelope Cruz (Anna), Antonio Albanese (Luca Salta), Ornella Muti (Pia), Riccardo Scamarcio (Thief)


The buzz
A new Woody Allen film always creates a stir. The 76-year-old writer-actor-director is still a controversial figure 20 years after his breakup with Mia Farrow and subsequent marriage to her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. No longer able to consistently finance his films in America, Allen has been making the vast majority of his recent features in Europe, where he has a large and loyal fan base. His new film To Rome with Love is his first in Italy and its theme is appropriate for him: the pluses and minuses of celebrityhood.


The genres
Romantic comedy; anthology film; films set in Rome


The premise
Allen offers four stories set in Rome that deal in various ways with the notion of being a celebrity. Two are mainly in English and two are in Italian with subtitles. Each takes a comic and ironic approach to love as well as dealing with the consequences of being a popular success.

The stories move effortlessly from one to the other, with no attempt to have the characters meet or for the timelines to mesh. One story takes a day while the others last from a week to a month. Once the characters are established, Allen simply moves his gaze from one tale to another. It’s a free and eclectic approach to storytelling and filmmaking.

Allen stars in one episode as Jerry, a retired avant-garde opera director who comes to Rome with his psychologist wife (played by Judy Davis) to meet Michelangelo, his daughter Hayley’s (Alison Pill) new Italian fiancé. It turns out that Michelangelo’s father Giancarlo, a mortician, possesses a fine operatic voice—but only when he’s singing in the shower. Allen’s solution: stage Pagliacci with Giancarlo as Canio singing in the shower. Needless to say the final death scene is hilarious, making Giancarlo a celebrity. Allen cast the superb tenor Fabio Armiliato as Canio/Giancarlo; he has often partnered with soprano Daniela Dessi and has starred at La Scala, Tokyo, Paris and San Francisco.

In the second mainly American episode, Jesse Eisenberg stars as Jack, a nebbishy architect living happily in Rome with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig). One day, he meets his idol, celebrity architect John (Alec Baldwin) who moves ghost-like through the story, offering advise to Jack and scornful interjections to Sally and her best friend Monica (Ellen Page), an actress who decides to visit them in Rome. Naturally, Jack falls for Monica, until he learns—too late—that Monica loves being a movie star far more than anything (or anyone) else.

The third tale stars Roberto Benigni as Leopoldo, a run-of-the-mill clerk who suddenly is taken up as a celebrity by the Italian media. Why? It’s never explained—but what happens to Leopoldo as he is suddenly showered with love, admiration, power and, of course, women is funny and harrowing to view.

In the fourth tale, a young couple from the provinces, Milly and Antonio, are confronted with fame, fortune and sex when they arrive in Rome. Milly gets lost looking for a hairdresser and ends up nearly being seduced by a movie star while, in an absurd mix-up, Antonio has to pass off a high class call girl (played by Penelope Cruz) as his wife.

 Next: The Performances

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