In his latest endeavor, To Rome with Love, Woody Allen goes on a scooter, weaving his way through Rome on a sputtering vehicle.
His bumpy trip hits some potholes on a well-worn road. He's certainly not in the fast lane. To Rome with Love is more Roman Hodgepodge rather than Roman Holiday.
To Rome with Love is surprisingly predictable. The satire - if it can be called satire - is very soft. Woody left his originality in Paris.
Celebrity is a squishy target. In one of four sections, Roberto Benigni plays an ordinary man who suddenly becomes an overnight sensation. The media asks him banal, meaningless questions such as, "What did you have for breakfast?"
It seems that Woody had dry toast.
Benigni gives a spirited performance - at least he jumps around a lot -, but it's a one-dimensional role.
Celebrity is so superficial a concept that it seems unworthy of satire. How does one flatten something that already is flat?
Woody also has episodes on infatuation and separation. In one Woody plays a retired opera director ("ahead of his time") who is in Rome with his wife (Judy Davis) to visit their daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) and her boy friend (Flavio Parenti) and his family. There's a corny, thankless bit about the father's singing talent. It's no Singing in the Rain. It's Singing Under the Spigot.
Another episode is about a just-married young couple from the provinces who have come to Rome for their honeymoon. They get separated in Rome, which leads to some leaden escapades.
Also living in Rome are a young, hopeful architect (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girl friend Sally (Greta Gerwig). In another side trip through the porous plot, Sally's manipulative girl friend Monica (Ellen Page) comes to visit, and Jack becomes smitten with her. Of course, Sally keeps throwing them together. Huh?
Ellen Page is a talented actress, but can she really portray a magnetic personality? Maybe only next to the simpering Eisenberg.
All the episodes are steeped in coyness. The film often is flaccid.
The one credible element is Alec Baldwin as a sage confidant to impressionable Jack. Baldwin plays a successful architect who is returning to Rome to revisit his old digs. Of course Jack lives right there.
To Rome with Love is like a pizza - very heavy on the cheese.
Woody Allen's last two movies - Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) and Midnight in Paris (2011) both made my top ten lists. Woody wrote and directed them, but he did not act in them.
In To Rome with Love, Woody is back on screen. His flippant patter is still amusing, but his persona doesn't sharpen the movie at all. His patented anxiousness is distracting. Fortunately, it doesn't distract from anything interesting.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris were brilliant, human films. They effectively emphasized the human condition and were thought-provoking.
To Rome with Love seems like a check on his bucket list - to make a movie in Rome. Check. OK. Been there. Done it.
The Golden Globes' crowd may adore Woody's latest. They're superficial enough to think Woody's ga-ga over them.
The rest of us know better. He's just ga-ga.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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