To Rome With Love isn’t awful. It’s probably best to be clear about that from the start. It’s not vintage Woody Allen, it made me look up the word portmanteau so I can use it in future reviews, and it’s way too long. But there are little bits to enjoy, even if the greater whole doesn’t gel. You can never shake the temptation to scrawl ‘could do better’ at the bottom of the screen, though.
For the problem is that it’s a Woody Allen film, and it doesn’t take too long into To Rome With Love to recognise that the man is capable of much better than this. It opens clumsily, with a traffic officer telling us of the different stories in the city of Rome, and soon, we’re off meeting a collection of characters whose stories sort-of wrap together.
Most of the few laughs come from the segment in which Woody Allen stars himself, as a retired opera director who hears a fresh opportunity when his daughter’s future father-in-law is singing loudly in the shower. Vintage Woody it is not, but he gives himself a couple of good lines, and is eminently watchable.
The comedy stops there, though. The other stories – a young couple who inadvertedly end up with different partners, Jesse Eisenberg being shadowed in his romantic endeavours by Alec Baldwin, and Roberto Benigni’s brush with unexplained fame – all splutter to varying degrees. In fact, in Eisenberg and Benigni, Allen has cast a pair of actors who valiantly do impressions of himself. Not since Kenenth Branagh headlined Celebrity has that been the case. Sadly, it just feels a bit odd watching them trying to out-Allen Allen.
To Rome To Love has been pretty much savaged critically, but there are still things to like. Allen’s whistle-stop tour of Rome displays his affection for the city, and when he hits the streets, there’s generally something very much worth looking at. Furthermore, the early part of the film is engaging enough, as Allen sets up the assorted strands of his stories.
But then he never takes it anywhere. He makes points that he’s made before, and made better. Furthermore, he deliberately leaves elements unexplained, yet in this instance, the ambiguity serves to cheapen his point. So, for instance, Allen has things to say about the vacuous nature of celebrity, but because he wraps it up in something so daft, he misses the mark.
It’s a pity. The film is nearly two hours long, and sadly, it does feel it by the time the credits come up. It’s never dull, but it’s frequently frustrating, leaves you thinking that Allen may have been better telling one story well than lots of stories less impressively. As is stands, while not the disaster it’s been painted as, To Rome With Love has little to actively recommend about it.
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