It seemed nearly impossible for Woody Allen to follow up Midnight in Paris, a film I personally consider to be as close to the likes of Annie Hall and Manhattan as the old devil is capable of making these days. That’s actually something I’ve had to sit here and stew about for a few days after seeing From Rome with Love. I looked at my notes about the film more than a few times over the past few days, trying to work it all out. From Rome with Love, had it released ten years ago, would have been highly laudable as a return to the sort of comedic farce Woody Allen used to do without fail every few movies. It’s not the pitch-perfect slapstick of Sleeper or Bananas, though: more like the silly, breezy comedic sense that made films like Take the Money and Run or Zelig.
That’s the word for it. Breezy. From Rome with Love is breezy, romantic fun, though it lacks any sort of substantive narrative weight.
From Rome with Love
Director: Woody Allen
Release Date: June 22nd (NY & LA)
From Rome with Love is comprised of four short stories, each unconnected save for being set in the Eternal City, Rome. A famous architect (Alec Baldwin) returns to the neighborhood he studied in for a year and stumbles across the romantic travails of a young architect (Jesse Eisenberg) that’s falling in love with a passionate, pretentious girl (Ellen Page), who is his girlfriend’s (Greta Gerwig) best friend, though the situation may just be the architect reliving his glory days with the wisdom of age. A retired opera director (Woody Allen) discovers his daughter’s father-in-law to be (Fabio Armiliato) has an astounding natural singing voice…but he can only sing while in the shower. A normal, middle-class Roman (Roberto Benigni) wakes up to find himself the most famous man in the city for absolutely no reason. Finally, two young newlyweds, Antonio and Milly (Allesandro Tiberi and Allesandra Mastronardi), find themselves separated and embroiled in potentially life-ruining romantic affairs, Antonio accidentally having to pass off a high-class prostitute (Penelope Cruz) as his wife for his conservative family members, and Milly having to deal with the sexual advances of Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese), a great Italian actor.
Each of these stories are fun and offer some enjoyable laughs. There’s a lot of that trademark Woody Allen wit pervading everyone’s role without falling into that Aaron Sorkin trap of every character blending into each other since they’re all SO WITTY. There’s just not much that’s terribly interesting to say in any of these stories. The characters are multi-faceted, but it’s not really done terribly well. This girl that seems very innocent and pure is ALSO WANTING TO HAVE SEX because the plot demands she has conflict. It all feels like material Woody Allen has visited before and more competently, with one exception. There’s an urgency in the retired opera director Allen portrays to kickstart a career that never really took off to begin with. Obviously, that’s not quite a position Allen would find himself in, especially if he ever takes a moment to visit his walk-in closet full of gold bullion and H&H bagels, but the character equates retirement with death, and that sort of nihilistic view of age seems right up Woody Allen’s neuroses. After all, Allen himself was considered fairly washed-up up until the moment he started making significantly more movies abroad. There’s interesting pathos there, if only in moments.
There’s a certain amount of that hyper-real magic that worms into most Woody Allen movies, mainly in Alec Baldwin’s story line and Roberto Benigni’s. Baldwin’s character searches for perspective on the life he used to live in Rome, and while that’s interesting in theory, it mostly resorts to him berating his “younger self” for the stupid choices he was making. With Benigni’s part, it resorts to much the same. The idea is interesting, as it’s got something to say about what “celebrity” means and how puzzlingly it can be bestowed on people, but there’s not really any interesting insight here, just that the celebrity has a completely different set of problems and worries than the common man, though it’s generally nicer to be a celebrity. This is something he already covered in Celebrity, though basically no one saw that. Regardless, it’s an interesting idea that could have gone somewhere exciting with more room to breathe, but in both cases outlined above, it’s a case of meager pickings.
There’s not a whole lot else to say about From Rome with Love. Rome’s a beautiful city to shoot in, and as such, there’s some very solid cinematography, but nothing to write home about. The music is very Italian, and the lack of jazz in the score feels at times like someone other than Woody Allen is making the movie. From Rome with Love is a solid enough date movie, but it can’t stack up to Woody Allen’s more interesting meditations on love.