*1/2 (out of four)
Woody Allen’s character in “To Rome with Love” feels inadequate if he’s not working, whether or not he has any quality ideas. Ah, the veteran writer-director knows himself so well.
This is such minor Allen, who brought us the sexy “Vicky Christina Barcelona” and nostalgic-but-bitter “Midnight in Paris,” that it’s barely professional. Sure, the scenery is bested only by the attractiveness of the cast … well, not quite. Allen primarily populates “Rome” with gorgeous women and average-looking dudes, continuing his longtime, onscreen fantasy that pairs an ordinary schmo with a woman wildly out of his league. As for the story, it’s a sporadically amusing, wandering meditation on romantic opportunities that largely promotes infidelity and ignores consequences.
Once again, Allen cares only about the male characters, possessing a shallow, objectified perspective on his women characters.
In the most outrageous role, Penelope Cruz plays Anna, a prostitute who walks into neurotic newlywed Antonio’s (Alessandro Tiberi) room and says that she’s been paid to sleep with him. Antonio’s wife (Alessandra Mastronardi) has gone on a wild goose chase around Rome in search of a salon, winding up on a movie set and going to lunch with an actor she loves. Meanwhile, Anna must pose as Antonio’s wife so he can impress family members and their business colleagues. Imagine the comedic possibilities if all these people dine in the same restaurant! Or don’t imagine, ’cause I’ll tell you: Antonio falls out of his chair. Hilarious!
Elsewhere, Sally (Greta Gerwig) tells Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) that she hopes he doesn’t fall in love with her highly sexual, name-dropping actress friend Monica (Ellen Page). All due respect to Page, but is she really the best choice to play an enigmatic, irresistible woman with whom Jack becomes infatuated? That happens despite the voice of reason appearing in the form of Alec Baldwin, amusing as a successful architect who’s been down that road before.
Elsewhere, Jerry (Allen) forces Giancarlo (Fabio Armilitato), the future father-in-law to his daughter (Alison Pill), to begin an opera career even though he sings best in the shower. And an average dope (Roberto Benigni) somehow becomes so famous that the paparazzi want to hear what he had for breakfast and beautiful co-workers and actresses jockey to join him in bed.
Allen half-heartedly examines the notion of people who are famous for being famous. He fares far better when returning to his safe zone and considering the way human desire often defies logic. (“Go on,” John [Baldwin] taunts Jack’s doomed lust for Monica. “Walk into the propeller.”) If he’s trying to capture the romanticized notions of a city and their ability to ruin people—or just a more liberal European sensibility?—he’s lost the handle on normal people who eventually return to reality.
“To Rome with Love” may seem light and sweet, but Allen’s serving acid in a chocolate milk carton.
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