From Paris to Rome, Woody keeps a steady pace

Like his prolific one-a-year filmography, this European tour by the world’s most famous filmmaking funnyman has been a series of hits and misses. Match Point was a miscast but masterful Hitchcockian thrill-ride while Scoop was poop. Vicky Christina Barcelona (easily my favourite so far) showed a playful Woody Allen at his most insightful. Still, one man’s hit can be another man’s miss. Perhaps expectations for this film were set high following the storming critical success of last year’s Midnight In Paris. I found the fairytale ‘what if’ scenario of that film to be a little trite and sloppy, lacking Allen’s dependable edge – while this year I’m genuinely surprised by the amount of bad press this new film is getting.

An introduction to the city comes via a traffic conductor whose opening monologue recalls the Italian master Federico Fellini’s Armacord, the host of which welcomes us to the town of Rimini (several of the film’s scenes are spoken in Italian and subtitled in Danish). This film is a much more casual affair than that classic, but Allen has still managed to bottle some Italian magic for us to savour. It’s a much broader canvas this time, with a large ensemble cast and a multi-stranded narrative: a tapestry of smaller ideas that remain narratively seperate yet weave rhythmically into a (mostly) satisfying whole. It’s not the first time Allen has chosen to work in this format – Deconstructing Harry being a primary if far lesser example.

Hayley (Pill) is a fine art student whose parents Jerry & Phyllis (Allen and Davis) are arriving in Rome to meet her newly minted Italian boyfriend (Parenti) and his parents. Jerry is a reluctantly retired opera director who on overhearing his daughter’s Italian father-in-law (Armiliato) sing in the shower, becomes convinced that the man’s voice is a gift from god and deserves to be heard. In the weakest of the story strands, an engaged Italian couple Antonio (Tiberi) and Milly (Mastronardi) arrive from the suburbs to meet Antonio’s upper class family and prospective employers.

While Milly gets lost in the big city, a case of mistaken identity leads to Antonio trying to pass off a prostitute called Anna (Cruz) as his fiancé to the elders of his largely underwhelmed family. Elsewhere, Leopoldo (Benigni) is introduced to us as the ‘average Italian man’, an office suit who suddenly becomes a media sensation. Perhaps the most interesting of the strands features Jesse Eisenberg (of The Social Network) as Jack who, despite being happy with his girlfriend Sally, finds himself caught in a series of trysts with the sexually magnetic Monica (Page), Sally’s best friend. The inclusion of a spectral architect whom Jack encounters on the street (Alec Baldwin) greatly enhances this particular vignette as the man lends his worldly wise commentary to the developments of this triangle, which may or may not reflect the man’s own life story.

While in its entirety the film seems uneven in tone, there is an underlying sense that with each story, Allen is highlighting that as futile as trying to escape our true nature may be, taking a holiday from ourselves can provide invaluable life lessons.

It may not be a reinvention of the Woody wheel, but compared with most romcoms that employ this now standard multi-strand format, it is almost a masterpiece. Take the risible Love Actually and add a measure of absurdity, subtract the cloying condescension and amplify the wit. It’s a warm, insightful and welcome diversion for summertime cinema goers. If you need a vacation from superheroes, aliens and the Olympics, you could do worse than watch Allen channel Fellini and put the Roma back in romance. 



To Rome with Love

Dir: Woody Allen;

US/Ita comedy, 2012, 102 mins; Woody Allen, Alison Pill, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Penélope Cruz, Alessandra Mastronardi, Roberto Benigni, Fabio Armiliato, Ellen Page
Premieres August 2
Playing nationwide

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