by Tim Gordon
Woody Allen’s cinematic tour through Europe stops in Italy with another ensemble lovefest examining human fragility with mixed results in the romantic comedy, To Rome with Love.
Leopoldo (Oscar-winner Roberto Benigni) is a successful worker living a mundane life with his wife and predictable job, simply watching life go on around him. One day, by chance, he suddenly becomes a “celebrity” seemingly for no particular reason with his every words and actions (including his choice of boxers over briefs) creating all sorts of ripples among the Italian press.
Meanwhile, newlyweds Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) and Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) have arrived and are preparing to introduce his bride to his family, securing their approval which he hopes will lead to a cushy position and a successful life. Wanting to make the perfect first impression for his family, Milly decides to go have her hair done but gets lost and goes on a fantastic journey. While waiting for Milly’s return, Antonio is surprised by a beautiful prostitute, Anna (Oscar-winner Penelope Cruz), who is mistakenly sent to his room to give him a special “gift.”
On the other side of town, John (Alec Baldwin) is enjoying his first trip back to Italy since he was a student 30 years earlier. While searching for his old college haunt, he runs into the current occupant, Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) who is sharing the spot with his girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig). The two are preparing for the arrival of Sally’s narcissistic actress friend, Monica (Ellen Paige). Acting as a playful muse and guardian angel, John provides sage advice and appropriate warnings to his overmatched young charge, which fall on deaf ears. “I’ve seen how this story ends,” John tells Jack.
The final story centers on a recently retired promoter, Jerry (Allen) and his wife (Judy Davis) who are in town to meet their daughter, Hayley (Alison Pill) and her boyfriend, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) and his family. Waiting for Michelangelo’s father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) to freshen up, Jerry observes his wonderful classically-trained voice. He immediately sets up an audition for his Caruso, over the objections of Michelangelo who thinks the idea is silly. Giancarlo fails miserably but not one to give up easily, Jerry decides that since he only sounds good in the shower, he will arrange not only his next audition but future performances as Giancarlo sings and cleans in front and in view of the masses.
Allen’s first on-screen performance since Scoop, has moments that work splendidly, the Jack/John and Jerry/Giancarlo subplots and others that don’t fare as well, notably the Leopoldo subplot which deteriorates into another look-at-me Benigni moment. Recently, Allen has been the prototypical 50/50 director with half of his stories hitting (Midnight in Paris) or spectacular failures (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger). His latest is a mixed bag that may make you laugh but later will have you wondering why.