To Rome With Love

Year: 2012
Production Co: Medusa
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Judy Davis, Woody Allen, Penélope Cruz

Before I started watching this film I was hoping for something with as much charm and gilded romanticism as Vicky Christina Barcelona or Midnight in Paris. Allen's been famous for it in his last few films, and despite all the criticism levelled at him for it, few directors know how to show the magic of how travel and falling in love can go hand in hand quite so well.

Alas, there's none to be found in this charmless collection of sitcoms. All the elements are on the page – nervous and neurotic people jumping from one romantic intrigue to another, love in the unlikeliest of places and a sense of Shakespearian mirth over the ridiculousness of it all.

But even as Allen photographs the postcard beauty of Rome (avoiding the grungy, ugly reality in amongst it), he manages to barely sideswipe any romance and move on. Maybe it was his choice of leading lady Ellen Page, who I can't see as an object of desire.

She plays impassioned actress Monica, a friend of American expat Sally (Gerwig). When Monica comes to stay with Sally, she captures the imagination and ultimately the heart of Sally' architect boyfriend Jack (Eisenberg), who quickly falls for her while showing her the sights of Roman architecture.

Meanwhile Jack has come across established architect John (Baldwin) wandering his old neighbourhood, whom Jack befriends and who then seems to pop up here and there to dispense homilies about love and Rome in a very strange way. After awhile you wonder if he really exists, or if he's some kind of figment of Jack's conscience to warn him about the perils of falling for the free-spirited Monica.

Allen plays the part of another expat's father in another segment, and while he tries his hardest to be funny, Allen's lost his live-wire, neurotic shtick – I think he's simply and literally too old and tired to talk that fast. Thankfully his quadrant of the movie has a decent grand guignol-style joke. The father of the man his daughter is marrying is a brilliant opera signer (they can all hear when he's in the shower), and at former music executive Jerry's (Allen) urging, he tries to perform on stage and is terrible. The answer? To have him perform on stage standing in a shower.

There's a slightly cute segment of a newlywed couple who've moved to Rome from the sticks and go through a comedy of errors trying to consummate their marriage as a famous actor and a hooker (Cruz) blindside them at every turn.

But the most whimsical (and out of place) segment deals with Roberto Benigni as an everyday dolt who finds himself a celebrity hounded by paparazzi one morning for absolutely no reason. Initially horrified at the intrusion, it's only when the media hounds drop him to go onto the next big thing he's left standing in the street crying out about how famous he used to be. Narratively it has nothing to do with the shiny, beautiful people falling in love Allen's usually concerned with and has more to do with his 1998 film Celebrity.

There's no common thread amongst the four stories apart from the fact that they all take place in Rome, and unfortunately this colourless exercise is another one that will convince you Woody Allen's lost his touch all over again.

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