Woody Allen’s “To Rome with Love” made its stateside debut Thursday night at the LA Film Fest. American critics are more wooed by the director’s latest loveletter to a foreign city than the Italians, but not by much. Review round-up below.
There’s something comforting about the familiar typography that intros every Woody Allen movie and his latest casting line-up. There’s also a familiar cadence to the lines and characters. Allen begins much as he did with “Midnight in Paris,” with shots of yet another European tourist attraction–Rome–accompanied by the ultimate Italian song cliche, “Volare.” A traffic cop starts off the narration, as a pretty blonde tourist (Alison Pill) meets nice with a handsome Communist lawyer (Flavio Parenti) and falls in love. “Michelangelo feels deeply about the workers,” she tells her skeptical capitalist father (Woody Allen), a retired music producer who was “ahead of his time,” explains her mom (Judy Davis). It’s fun seeing Allen on-screen as a father rather than a leading man.
But it’s no wonder the Italians were put off by this set of slight short stories linked by Rome. Several of them are witty enough to make delightful New Yorker pieces, but as confusingly woven together here, nothing much adds up or pays off. Allen feels no need to explain how or why mature architect Alec Baldwin–again, like Owen Wilson in “Midnight in Paris,” breaking off from the tourists to go into his own world– is able to pop up over time as a commentator in the life of Jesse Eisenberg, a younger expat architect who leads him back to his old student digs. Baldwin sees his younger counterpart’s romantic entanglements coming a mile off, as he jeopardizes his relationship with tall Sally (Greta Gerwig) in favor of charismatic dimunitive actress Monica (Ellen Page). Is Baldwin recalling his younger self? The commenting-on-the-scene concept worked in “Annie Hall,” but there Allen set it up, you knew the rules.
Allen likes to keep to his annual work schedule: write, shoot, edit, release, start over. But as well as “Midnight in Paris” turned out–Allen thanked his actors at the premiere for good reason, as they were woefully underutilized, from Roberto Begnini’s fifteen-minute celeb to Penelope Cruz as yet another high-end prostitute– “To Rome with Love” feels underwritten and just plain lazy.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire:
“More than any noted comedy director, Allen’s flaws as a filmmaker can be easily excused if he manages to land enough jokes. In “To Rome With Love,” he repeatedly tries and mostly fails to land them. There’s nothing wrong with an old-fashioned Allen yukfest, but there’s certainly such a thing as too much of a bad one.”
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter:
“For the most part, the characters are too stupid and blind to their own follies to accept even in this farcical context. The best the fine actors assembled can hope for is to avoid embarrassment, which only a few manage to do. Darius Khondji‘s cinematography bathes the already beautiful city in burnished, golden hues, but even the source-music score, beginning with Volare, is below the director’s usual standards.”
Peter Debruge, Variety:
“By juggling such a large ensemble, Allen doesn’t really have the time or space to flesh out characters, who remain almost cartoonishly one-dimensional. But the film feels like 15% too much as it is, with each of the strands coming in slightly longer and loopier than necessary. When in Rome, Allen does as he always has, adapting the city to his sensibility.”
Craig Kennedy, Awards Daily:
“Because it is frequently kind of silly, it’s tempting to write off ‘To Rome With Love’ as slight, but there is a gentle gravity at work here that is magnified when you think back on it after the dust settles. Often funny, it is loose and effortless and unforced, but that doesn’t mean it is insignificant. It’s another winner from Allen who continues to find new inspiration wherever he goes.”