Friday, 20 July 2012

REVIEW: To Rome With Love

Dir.: Woody Allen
With: Woody Allen, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg

I read an interview with Woody Allen the other day, in which he describes his creative approach to story-writing. He says that he collects random ideas that come to him out of the blue, writes them down on napkins and such and puts them in a drawer in his study. A few more months of these napkins and matchboxes and he constructs a script using most of the ideas. ‘How curious!’ one might exclaim. And yes, I think this is an unusual method but it also has one big flaw – sometimes these ideas just don’t work together very well, as is the case with “To Rome with Love”, unfortunately. Essentially, the film is made up of four separate plotlines, completely independent of each other. They are shown interchangeably, moving through time with no particular logical system.

My favourite storyline was the one concerning an average Roman employee, played by the clownish Roberto Benigni, who one day wakes up extremely famous, for reasons unbeknownst to him. The others deal with a young provincial couple, who upon their arrival to Rome have to face absurd temptations of the baser kind; a young American architect (Jesse Eisenberg) with an animated consciousness (Alec Baldwin), lusting after his girlfriend’s best friend (Ellen Page); and finally, American parents (Judy Davis and Woody Allen) who come to Rome to meet the family of their daughter’s fiancée. Their Italian counterparts, of course, end up being totally bonkers and the father somewhat unusually gifted. “To Rome with Love” is filled with the classic characters from Woody Allen's earlier works; there is Allen himself, a neurotic egoist who is no stranger to greed, Jesse Eisenberg – a boring do-gooder, dying to feel a little more alive and wild, Ellen Page as the dangerous yet enticing Woman, and Penelope Cruz as the eye-candy. The film is meant to be a light-hearted comedy with the classic Allenian dollop of dark humour and illicit hook-ups.

However, I found that it lacked charm and the characters, as well as the plotlines, were all too clichéd and just not spunky enough to be able to compare to some of the director’s earlier works, many of which deal with similar themes. Although there were a few laughs, the whole film was just a bit empty and disjointed for me to enjoy it properly. Given that its original title was ‘Bop Decameron’, it seems that it was first conceived as a collection of stories that deal with love, lust and temptation to a very comic effect, like in Boccaccio’s famous work. Yet, somehow, adventures of the medieval lovers seem much more entertaining and scandalous now than those of their modern descendents.

Having a brief look at Woody Allen’s filmography, I noticed that since 2007 he wrote and directed six films: “Cassandra’s Dream” from 2007, set in London and not terribly successful, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” from 2008, which as you know was great, “Whatever Works” in 2009 – an ok movie, set on his home turf in New York, then back in London for the poorly received “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” the following year, “Midnight in Paris” in 2011 – his most successful film financially, and finally “To Rome with Love” in 2012. From what I can see, it’s better to stick to quality than quantity in Woody Allen’s case, leaving a gap of two-three years between his films and allowing those napkins and matchboxes gestate a little for better results, rather than whip them out every twelve months.

The film is already out in the States and most of mainland Europe. The UK release date is 14th September.

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