It seems director Woody Allen is on an extended European road trip.
Beginning with the critically acclaimed drama Match Point, Allen took us to London in 2005. In 2008, audiences left the U.K. for Spain with Vicky Cristina Barcelona.Last year the tour continued as viewers stopped in the French capital with the comedy Midnight in Paris.
After we’ve laughed, cried and explored some of Europe’s most popular destinations, it is only fitting that the next leg of the director’s journey showcase the at once ancient and modern city of Rome.
To Rome With Love turns viewers into voyeurs, idling and people-watching at an Italian cafe (though without the requisite foamy cappuccinos). They are treated to four beautiful vignettes, set in the capital city and featuring visitors and residents.
Famous American architect John (Alec Baldwin) returns to the neighborhood where he once lived and studied during his youth. Searching for his past residence, he meets Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), also an architecture student. Jack happens to live in John’s old apartment with the sweet but bland Sally (Greta Gertwig), his girlfriend.
When Sally’s funny and sensual best friend Monica (Ellen Page) comes to visit, viewers can easily imagine the plotline to follow. Page channels her character in Juno by making witty and unexpected comments that leave the audience members shaking their heads, but Page displays an unexpected sexuality. Baldwin’s character, on the other hand, is difficult to grasp. It is unclear whether he is meant to be a ghost, warning Jack about Monica’s seductive ways, or whether the story is simply John’s mental reflection on his past mistakes.
In contrast to the youthful hormones and relationships between Jack, Sally and Monica, we are introduced to Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi), a newly married couple visiting Rome on their honeymoon. Though they appear madly in love at first, a series of events ultimately lead Antonio into the grass with Anna (Penélope Cruz), one of Rome’s most popular call girls, and Milly under the hotel sheets of a famous Italian movie star.
The newlyweds’ struggle between respecting their vows and satisfying their lustful longings takes place in one afternoon, but this brief span reveals how quickly an ordinary day can veer off course and how quickly a relationship can be derailed.
For the next vignette’s Leopoldo, played by popular Italian director Roberto Benigni, days of boring, ordinary living become a thing of the past when he wakes up one morning as one of the most famous men in Italy.
Despite his initial hesitation answering questions about his preference for boxers or briefs and how he butters his morning toast, Leopoldo comes to enjoy the attention from reporters and the invitations to movie premieres and restaurants that accompany the fame. Yet considering Benigni’s infectious and exuberant personality, viewers will wish that Leopoldo could exhibit some of the same emotion that Benigni put on display when he claimed the prize for best actor at the 1999 Academy Awards for a film he also directed, Life is Beautiful.
The final story arc surrounds retired opera director Jerry (Woody Allen), his wife Phyllis (Judy Davis), their daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) and the family of Hayley’s new fiance, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). Upon flying to Rome to meet his daughter’s sweetheart, Jerry also encounters Michelangelo’s father, Giancarlo (renowned tenor Fabio Armiliato). Hearing Giancarlo’s operatic voice over the noise of the running shower, Jerry tempts the undertaker to join his productions with grand visions of La Scala Opera House and Puccini lyrics.
Returning to the screen for the first time since 2006’s Scoop, Allen plays the neurotic and frustrated Jerry with both amusement and endearment. Audiences can sympathize with Jerry’s personal dissatisfaction and longing for acclaim, but his ideas are too wild and avant garde to be taken seriously (imagine a shower stall, a grand orchestra and a world tour). But just as Milly longs for her movie star’s affection, just as Jack feels pride when Monica reciprocates his affections and just as Leopoldo basks in the limelight, Jerry represents the universal and innate need for appreciation.
Although Paris might be considered the city of love, Allen’s film reveals that Rome is not without its romantic side. Though the vignettes’ plots do not intersect, their characters are all on quests for love (or sex). From chastity to infidelity, from newfound love to heartache, the film has at least one plot line for any moviegoer.
Like a multi-course Italian meal with its plentiful portions, To Rome With Love at times seems neverending and its stories are a bit over the top. But by the time the credits roll, audiences are satisfied and left simply to wonder where Allen might stop next on his European tour.