REVIEW: To Rome with Love
Woody's latest should be more appropriately titled "To Rome with Predictability"
Back in “the day”, there were three things on which I based much of my insecurity-riddled adolescence; three things on which I would spend my money on, sight unseen.
One was the latest Billy Joel album, another was the newest Woody Allen movie, and the third, a cheese pie from Napoli Vince Pizza.
There’s something very sad to see your idols falter; to witness their mortality, but, as one ages, this becomes inevitable.
Poor Billy Joel started dating his daughter’s friends and drinking a bit much. Granted, if my daughter was at least two decades older, I might too, be guilty of such indiscretions, but there’s just something wrong with watching these “special” folks crumble.
Alas, the perfect pizza of Napoli Vince is now unavailable to my palate due to me being out of their delivery range; but I’ll always remember the special times we shared.
And, what of Woody?! The “Woodman” was my first inspiration into the world of writing and I would be the first in line to see any of his movies regardless of what the critics had to say.
Today, some 25 years later, I’m saddened by the fact that not only has Woody apparently traded in his movie-making business for that of a European travel agent, but that today I am one of those critics who has not much kind to say about his latest effort.
Written and directed by Woody himself who also stars in the film along with Judy Davis, Roberto Benigni, Ellen Page, Jesse Isenberg and Alec Baldwin, To Rome with Love would have best been marketed as precisely what it is, a travelogue, promoting the many glorious wonders of the magnificent Italy. For those of you familiar with Italy, and who may have spent some time there, it’s worth the price of admission just to see and feel the beauty of this magical place.
Unfortunatley, the best thing I can say about the film, part of the Closing Night Gala of the Italian Contemporary Film Festival at Toronto’s Bell TIFF Lighthouse Theatre, is that the seats were extraordinarily comfortable.
But, where once New York stood as Woody’s silent mistress, his muse, and his reason for getting up in the morning, the Woodman has clearly lost his way, abandoning the city so nice they named it twice, with first London, followed by Paris and now Italy.
The story starts off optimistically enough through the eyes of a traffic cop in Rome who, with some clever narration and foreshadowing, sets the pace with the promise of romance, shenanigans and surprises.
The rest of the film is a clumsy intertwining of stories, one more ridiculous than the next including that of an average middle-class worker (Benigni) who one day awakes up to find himself a celebrity; an sell-out architect (Baldwin) who takes a trip back to the street he lived on as a student, a young couple on their honeymoon, and frustrated funeral director who has a talent for singing, but, of course, only in the shower.
Sadly, what we end up with is every old Woody joke from every one of his previous films with the same predictable outcomes, one-liners and anxiety-ridden scenarios. My point is, if you’ve seen Annie Hall, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Play it Again, Sam, you’ve seen To Rome with Love.
Jesse Eisenberg, clearly channeling a younger Woody of, say, the Annie Hall years, was, to me, the best thing about the film. He displayed a natural charm and while some of Woody’s anxiety would occasionally rear its ugly head in his mannerisms, he kept them to a minimum, allowing him to be himself, as opposed to just another Woody caricature.
Canada’s Ellen Paige was annoying as hell in her role as a neurotic (sensing a theme here?) struggling actress, which means she played the role with great aplomb.
And, in Woody’s usual role as the conscience and harbinger of the film, appearing out of nowhere and inserting himself into scenes where he played devil’s advocate was the always great Baldwin, who was the perfect instrument to convey Woody’s cynical view of relationships, celebrity, women and actresses.
There were a few original clever lines of dialogue in the film, but overall, and maybe this is just because I still expect Woody to deliver the original, offbeat hilarity he was once synonymous with, I found the film to be tired, and self-indulgent. I was preying for a cameo from Diane Keaton dressed in Annie’s old tie and vest, and big floppy hat to ensure at least one “Ahhhh” moment, but it was not to be.
I fear that it is time for Woody to leave the world of film-making behind him, and open his travel agency. Or, perhaps he could make one last film before he calls it a day. Sure, how about, “Shalom, Israel!”
It could star Woody who, after a successful film career finally realizes that his best days are behind him, moves to the Jewish state, where he opens up a Shawarma shop on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem.