The unique artist expression of Woody Allen has long made its mark on cinematic history. Moviegoers have formed their opinions and will either love the quirky little guy or find his absurdity revolting. His films require a certain taste; one that asks you to leave reality aside for bit, while not letting it stray too far. So after 60 years of filmmaking experience, Woody Allen continues to direct his ideas to life, with his latest film, To Rome With Love, premiering this weekend.
Coming off the critical acclaimed success of Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen turns his eyes towards Rome and his mind towards love. While his previous film highlighted a semi-romance story, this film delves deep into aspects of love that attempt to reach audiences on a multitude of mediums.
Set in Rome, the city lends itself to the varying story lines in a leitmotif-esq fashion. While the tales are not physically intertwined, they are connected by the complementing ideas that have one another fitting together like different pieces in a set.
While there’s plenty of Woody Allen classic, yet still fresh humor, the film takes a step back from its predecessor. Collecting one cliché after another, the stories fail to grip the audiences’ attention or interest. We watch as either dull acting or drone-on jokes, that were humorous at first, but quickly age with redundancy, shape the future of the film.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t any brilliant performances. On the contrary, actress Penelope Cruz adsorbs the spotlight of her story, delivering each line in a sexy, clever way only someone with her talents can. While playing a trashy prostitute, Cruz is anything but trashy, commanding her character beautifully and adding depth to the role.
Alec Baldwin is another masterful performer as his chemistry with Ellen Page is stupendous. With each spoken line complementing the other perfectly, Baldwin narrates the melodrama of young love. Clearly having a good time with it, Baldwin owns the role, speaking as though he has had many direct relatable experiences to the situation. It’s almost as if we were watching a dad who witnesses a son make similar relationship choices as he did and smiles at the nostalgia it evokes.
But the actor who steals the movie completely is the talented Roberto Benigni. Playing an ordinary man who finds himself treated like a celebrity, Benigni humorously depicts a satire of the relationship between the famous, the media and people who worship them. Though Allen’s jokes get old, repeating endlessly, Benigni is sensational throughout, evoking both pathos and empathy.
While the ideas of the film are full of that Woody Allen charm and unimaginable creativity, especially the funeral home owner whose destined to be the worlds greatest opera singer, the movie is often rather dull and semi-choppy.
The stories don’t mash together as well as they should, causing all of them to feel out of place. In Midnight in Paris the stories flowed beautifully, shifting from one scene to the next with ease and grace. In this film, we constantly feel taken back when a certain story comes on to the screen, putting us off in an unexpecting way. While in part this is due to a directing and script malfunction, it can also be accredited to the dull performances delivered by some of the actors.
As a young aspiring architectural student, who greatly respects Baldwin, Jessie Eisenberg is forced to deal with a situation of lust, love and stability. While he is supposed to be humorously conflicted between his stable relationship and the new exciting girl in his life, he is anything but funny.
It is clear that Woody Allen placed Eisenberg in this position in order to play what Woody Allen used to be, (if you can remember young Allen). Though Eisenberg talks like Allen and delivers like Allen, we are constantly reminded that he is no Allen. This failing doesn’t come from Eisenbergs acting talents, but rather in his semi bro-ey physical features. He has the face of a middle-of-the-pack frat boy and tight, rigid body that lacks a certain sincerity to it. Allen, on the other hand, looks relaxed, loose and genuine, and therefore Eisenberg is completely unable to grasp that Allen charm which the role desperately calls for. With no fault placed on Eisenberg, our interest is lost as we sort of become annoyed and finally apathetic toward him.
Despite beautifully capturing Rome due to cinematographer Darius Khondji’s wonderful work, it would have been nice to see a Rome that’s image didn’t appear straight from the postcard. To be clear, Rome is a perfect city for the film. To be in Rome is to be surrounded by the silent monoliths of an ancient civilization while at the same time experiencing the clamor of a modern metropolis teeming with life, which is so much what the film is about; the perfect fusion of history and the present—an exhilarating hub of extraordinary culture as it connects from one generation to the next. But it would have been good to see the ‘real Rome;’ the beautifully lit side streets with wonderfully crafted benches on the side of cobble stone roads. Apartments that complement the cozy appearance that only an Italian charm can bring. Aside from the beginning where Eisenberg meets Baldwin, the film is practically void of this scenery. The repeated fountain and tourist spot sightings quickly become sickening and do nothing but spur a disingenuous tone to the film.
Final Verdict: Not Woody Allen’s greatest work, but not his worst either. Allen wins brilliant performances by several of his main actors and even creates memorable characters delivered by some of his Italian actors. The creativity and originality of Allen’s artistic expression is once again there, as his ideas do not fail to impress or humor. However, the execution of the film is far from great, as the stories move from hysterical to redundant. By the end the jokes and character become tiresome. To sum, if you want Allen, you will get Allen. If you want Great Allen? Well, you might want to pass on this one.