Woody Allen lite, but I don’t mind that at all. To Rome with Love is a self-referencing pastiche of earlier Woody movies, sketch ideas laid out on a very attractive tableau – you get vacation plan ideas from all the scenic backdrops. He’s also acting for the first time since “Scoop” (2006), it’s a little poignant to see him doing the same schtick but with gray hair now. Many welcomes to Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg and Greta Gerwig for participating, all of them first-timers, all of them born to be in a Woody Allen movie. Alessandra Mastronardi and Penelope Cruz are the attractive women with plum comedic roles, the former a pretty-prissy Italian in a flower dress and the latter a hooker-siren in a red dress with matching pumps mistaken for sophisticated class.
The movie doesn’t do much other than roll out various vignettes in an anthology manner, and Woody doesn’t care if he intersects them or not. He just likes the situations, and testing out effervescent dialogue. Roberto Benigni, as a milquetoast family man who becomes a celebrity for no reason, is a hit of miss affair. Fabio Armiliato, on the other hand as a shower singing opera star, is a marvelous comedic performer. Their daffy tangents pay-off with climactic laughs.
Ellen Page is hardly a sex siren. But Page has the kind of mouthy sass to rope Eisenberg’s attention away from his own girlfriend, the winsome Gerwig as a student abroad. Eisenberg gets more laughs consulting with mentor Baldwin on the highs and lows of forbidden romance, than he actually does in his close encounters with Page. This isn’t a sexy subplot involving Page and Eisenberg, but between the three of them it is funny one.
The undertow theme is the warranted and unwarranted demands of fame. There is also some distilled ideas about the nature of retirement, personified as Woody as the newly retired dad to his newly engaged daughter (Allison Pill), who wants to resurrect his press agent skills abroad. Judy Davis (a volcanic presence in Woody’s “Husbands and Wives” twenty years ago) is the disapproving wife. Yada Yada Yada, the squabbling older married couple. We’ve seen it.
And yes, we recognize many elements in “To Rome with Love” that we’ve seen… yet it’s still hard not be a little enamored by it. It lasts about as long as a cup of spumoni, but it tastes good during digestion. This is a dependably sunny, light-hearted affair that contrasts to a jaded movie culture filled with pervasive cynicism and snark. Mild and charming Woody lite is sometimes my only designated relief within a year. It’s full of quips that poke gentle jabs at multiple languages and mixed cultures. That’s all I ask for the time being.
102 Minutes. Rated R.
COMEDY / MILD & CHARMING / WEEKEND AFTERNOON MOVIE
Film Cousins: “Fellini’s Roma” (1972); “Stardust Memories” (1980); “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” (1982); “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2008).