Again Allen is interested in the theme of love and sub-themes of longing and infidelity. In this case, we meet Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), a budding architect living in Rome with his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig). When Sally’s friend Monica (Ellen Page), an out-of-work actress, comes to visit after having broken up with her most recent victim, er… boyfriend, Sally fears Jack will fall hopelessly in love with Monica as every other man has.
In the same vein, another vignette finds a couple of newlyweds tempted by chance and circumstance, leading each to fulfill certain longings and bringing the temptation of infidelity. Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) and Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) find themselves separated. Milly has a chance encounter will her favorite movie star, Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese), and Antonio gets into a hot mess with a prostitute name Anna (Penelope Cruz). Both vignettes have underlying themes of temptation and expectation, and flow together naturally.
While the two aforementioned stories center primarily around longing and temptation, Allen dabbles in the secondary themes of fame and celebrity. Struggling actress Monica tries to talk like an intellectual while also trying to be a romantic. Yet, she clearly longs for the spoils of fame. Milly contemplates cheating on her new husband because she doesn’t want to miss the chance to sleep with a celebrity.
The subjects of fame and celebrity are familiar ground for Allen, which he incorporates through several vignettes here. One story follows Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), an average Italian citizen who becomes famous overnight for virtually nothing. The social commentary on fame for the sake of fame strikes a relatable chord in today’s landscape of reality show housewives and sex tape stars. Allen takes the ridiculousness of unwarranted fame further by having Leopoldo answer the most asinine questions from reporters. When you’re famous for absolutely no reason, answering questions like, “What did you have for breakfast?” in extreme detail is fair game.
In another vignette, when Jerry (Allen) and Phyllis (Judy Davis) come to Rome to meet their daughter’s new fiancé, Jerry discovers the fiancé’s father has an incredible singing voice in the shower. As a former opera director, Jerry puts Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) on stage in a shower performing classic opera pieces. The press loves Giancarlo, who is grateful for the opportunity, but also willing to blow off his newfound fame to continue his career as a mortician. Giancarlo and Leopoldo each handle fame with different regard. While Giancarlo dictates fame on his own terms, Leopoldo has no control, and learns the hard way about the fleeting nature of celebrity.
To a lesser extent than love and celebrity, the theme of legacy flows through the vignette featuring Jerry and Giancarlo, which inspires thoughts about Allen’s legacy itself. In his first on-camera role since 2006’s Scoop, Allen plays his trademark anxious character, only this time he’s busy equating retirement to death. At age 76, it seems film director Allen and Jerry likely share the same fears and concerns over retirement. It’s clear both seek redemption. While Jerry wants to redeem himself by bringing the brilliant voice of Giancarlo to the stage, one could assume when it comes to acting, Allen himself can’t let go of the spotlight just yet.
The ancient Romans called their home the Eternal City because they believed no matter how many empires might rise and fall, Rome would go on forever. Just as Rome still stands, so does Allen as one of cinema’s kings of character and story. Following Midnight in Paris with its strong sense of theme, whimsical storyline and well developed characters would be tough for any director, Allen included.
To Rome With Love meanders, and though it made me laugh, it lacks the cohesion and emotion necessary to be considered a truly great film. Then again, Allen might be the only one who believes it still necessary to secure his legacy.
To Rome With Love
Staring Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penélope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page
Written and directed by Woody Allen