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In the past few years Woody Allen’s films have lurched from award-winning to mediocre; with 2011’s Midnight in Paris receiving a multitude of accolades as well as rave reviews from critics, many had hoped that Allen had recaptured the magic of his earlier works but To Rome with Love, however, is somewhat lacking.
A patchwork quilt of a film, To Rome with Love‘s narrative is comprised of several stories with a large cast switching back between each of them throughout the duration. American tourist Hayley (Alison Pill) falls in love with local Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) and invites her parents, Jerry (Woody Allen) and Phyllis (Judy Davis) to meet both him and his family. Alongside this, newlyweds Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) become separated and lost in Rome before being dragged through a surreal day which includes Italian actors, business big wigs and prostitute Anna (Penelope Cruz). In yet another corner of the city, famous architect John (Alec Baldwin) is dragged back into his past upon meeting Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) who has to deal with his feelings towards newly arrived Monica (Ellen Page), a childhood friend of his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig). Finally, Leopolodo (Roberto Benigni), a family man who is incredibly bored with his mundane day job only to awake one day to find for some inexplicable reason he has become a celebrity, and struggles to deal with all of the attention.
If all of this sounds confusing, don’t worry, it isn’t. Each of the plot points are entirely separate and can alter in tone from serious to comical; the only problem is that some of these are weaker than others. Allen’s own thread, for instance, feels rather lacklustre and Allen himself seems rather wooden (puns!) and forced, and whilst many of his lines are funny they have a stiff delivery and in many ways seem directed at the audience rather than anyone else. Eisenberg’s plot also falters a little, as the character is very much that which we’ve already seen in Adventureland; awkward and stricken, but the choices both he and Page’s Monica make create unlikeable characters with Baldwin’s narration only reflecting the frustration of the audience.
The strongest performances are definitely those of the Italian actors: Benigni (you may know him from Life is Beautiful) is wonderful with his bemusement and naivety perfectly mixed with his comedy – very reminiscent of Monsieur Hulot in his stumbling stupidity. Alongside this, the performances of Tiberi and spaniard Penelope Cruz are great, with their distinct differences complimenting the others well.
In all, To Rome With Love is profoundly mediocre; it isn’t a bad film but it has its weaknesses and certainly doesn’t measure up to last year’s Midnight in Paris. There’s just a little bit too much going on; you never get a good look at anyone and some of the characters are profoundly unlikeable. The music and landscapes are superb and gel well together but the fact that the stories don’t manage to fuse together as well is what lets this film down. Perhaps Allen should focus less on releasing a film every year and more on the age-old ethic of quality over quantity.