To Rome with Love
How Are You?
I Am Fine.
As a youngster, I remember throwing around the term “number one fan” somewhat haphazardly. I bought Eminem’s newest record the day it came out, clearly number one fan activity. Did I stay up through midnight to buy it at 12:01 when Borders re-opened? Actually, come to think about it, I did something like that for the 8 Mile soundtrack. But did I cover the walls in posters of his god-like visage, pirate all the underground music he did with Skam, and tattoo his name in Windsor across my chest? No. Have you seen people who are actually number one fans? Things can get a little out of control. If you skipped the link, it’s about “Bronies.”
The point being, I am not Woody Allen’s number one fan. I love his work, I intend to see everything he has ever done, and I find his philosophy and musings to be as good as, if not better than, the Bible & the Torah put together (I guess that would just be the Bible). My claim would then be: of all the things for which I would be a fan, Woody Allen is my number one. Ever since 1997’s Deconstructing Harry, when I got to see an elderly, neurotic Jew debate a black hooker on the order in which he should be pleasured and punished, I’ve found his existentially melancholic humor delightful and entertaining. While this isn’t the best example of the witticisms the ironic Allen tends to produce, it was what hooked me. I’ve tried to keep up, catching his newest film in theater when I can, Netflix-ing his older library in the meantime (and Blockbuster-ing back when every movie ever wasn’t available at the click of a button).
So this brings us to his most recent endeavor, To Rome with Love. While the title may be lacking, the film isn’t. 4 unconnected plots weave a love letter to a beautiful city and romantic culture, full of character and whimsy. My favorite part of the movie is that Woody Allen is actually in it! He hasn’t acted in a flick since 2006’s Scoop, which I fully enjoyed, regardless of the critics’ lack of favor. In watching the “Behind the Scenes” feature on the Blu-Ray, it seems he does not intentionally write a script with himself in mind (although in almost every one of his films, there is the classic “Woody Allen” character. In this movie alone, Jesse Eisenberg is Allen in his 20s, Roberto Benigni is Allen in his 40s, and Woody Allen is Allen in his 60s, even though the actor/writer/director is well into his 70s now), but if there is a role he can play, he gladly accepts the part. Unlike recent shlock-fest Movie 43, To Rome with Love takes these 4 separate stories (almost individual movies) and combines them into a feature work of art. Some span the course of a couple hours, while others tell tales of weeks and months. Some are grounded in reality (or at least Woody’s reality), while others bloom into full fantasy and surreal adventures, reminiscent of his recent Midnight in Paris and the classic Stardust Memories.
The Newly Weds, a Prostitute, & an Actor
A comedy of errors, Commedia dell’Arte in its prime, in Italian if it wasn’t perfect enough. Due to wrong room numbers and an endless stream of misdirection (2 blocks down, one block over, across the street from the candy shop, take a left), a newly wed husband ends up at his wealthy family’s soiree, having to convince them that the woman he brought is his wife, even though most of the guests know her by another name. Meanwhile, his real wife is swept up in a world of film & fame where she is confronted with her own fidelity. The only actor I recognized from this vignette was Penélope Cruz, who has now surpassed Salma Hayek as the morena de mi corazón (they were neck ‘n neck until Bandidas in 2006, and to be honest, I could never get past the unibrow in Frida). I don’t speak Italian but I never questioned a Spaniard in the role, and the comedic timing was spot on throughout the whole bit. Things spiral more and more out of control, and the final switcheroo scene is so funny it almost excuses the characters’ moral shortcomings.
Maggie pointed out that there is a lot of cheating going on Woody Allen movies, no one seems to remain faithful, and while Allen is not the epitome of relationships himself, I think setting these stories in an open culture, a place where whore houses are legal and affairs are commonplace, helps to dull the sting of deceit so prevalent in Allen’s work. As Robin Williams once said, “America, founded by prudes so uptight, the English kicked them out.” Allen’s generation, New York in the 1960s, was also a different culture compared to today, predating the “No-Fault Divorce Law” of 1970. And there’s your little tidbit for the day. Don’t cheat on your wife.
The Shower Singer
Going back to 2005’s Match Point, Woody Allen has strayed from his faithful home in New York to spin yarns throughout Europe: England (Cassandra’s Dream), Spain (Vicky Christina Barcelona), & Paris. Now in Italy, Allen places himself as the father to a young woman in love, and an ex-music producer in need of a distraction from retirement (and death). I guess to shy away from his own history of infidelities, this segment is the only story where all the characters are faithful. To make it even more meta and self-referential, Pagliacci, the famous opera, is used as a cap to the film. The clown opera is about a husband and wife who put on a play about being husband and wife, and in both instances, the wife is cheating on him. The story and themes are used throughout most of Woody Allen’s work, including To Rome with Love, only the roles are usually reversed. Borrowing from the operatic score of Match Point, the father of the man whom Allen’s daughter intends to marry (her soon-to-be father-in-law) can sing like Luciano Pavarotti (at least I think he can. He’s the only opera singer I know of and I still had to google his name). This has the usual quirks of Allen’s character, a sarcastic-yet-supportive wife, and his child with polar social commentary. The main joke is the visual gag which I’ll leave for you to see when you watch the movie, but I can’t help but think this whole bit started as a racist jokes about Italians singing in the shower. But then again, that might just be me.
Fame Is Fleeting; or 15 Minutes
In my favorite vignette, Allen through Roberto Benigni explores the joys and pitfalls of the rich and famous. In an era of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, leave it to Woody Allen to compare them to a middle class clerk. Without giving too much away, this is the most surreal story in To Rome with Love. It begins simply enough but as it collects steam it barrels ahead, skipping over the little things like logic and reason, to get the Italian comedian dancing his pants off in the middle of the street. Begging the question, why do we care about people who are famous for being famous? Now the Hiltons and Kardashians are big in the celebrity sex-tape business, but they’re not really celebrities to begin with. I still don’t know who Chris Jenner is or how he keeps up with the Kardashians, but if he had to marry this lady I’d say it wasn’t worth it.
Annie Hall in Rome
Lastly, in a story he has told time and time again, Jesse Eisenberg finds his Diane Keaton in Ellen Page, and is lead astray from his Mia Farrow (Greta Gerwig). I guessed the surreal quirk of this scene as soon as the audience enters Jesse & Greta’s apartment, but Eisenberg and Alec Baldwin have a great rapport with quick and blunt Woody dialogue. This was a great treat for a fan. Ellen Page has grown up since Juno, but keeps the charm and really channels the slacks&tie Keaton of the late 70s. While the film received an R rating for sexual situations, nothing really crosses the line until Page uses the F-word as a sultry action, whereas most PG-13 flicks let one (or even a couple) F-bomb(s) slide through as long as it is not describing the act of love making (dirty, butt-slapping, shoulder-biting, child-bearing love making).
So we’re left with the feeling that Woody wanted to make 4 movies, and if I had to guess it was the Pagliacci singer that should have had the main stage. I’m sure he’s always down to tell the tale of Annie Hall (Anything Else, Manhattan), the love he lost. A farce about a hooker (Mighty Aphrodite) will go over with any audience, Italian or otherwise. A surreal look at the struggle of fame was a theme in Stardust Memories, although since his rough patch in the late 90s-early 2000s, I think Allen has realized that he’d rather deal with the problems of the rich and famous than the poor unknowns. But would a story about a retired music producer with an nihilistic fear of death trying to turn a mortician into an opera singer make a feature film? I guess we’ll find out when he recycles this material in 20 years to make another. Don’t get me wrong, recycling helps the environment, and even if it is the same stories with the same characters, Woody Allen is an artist that turns out flicks like a baker does pies. Not all of them are the best ever, but come on, who doesn’t like pie?
To Rome with Love
Directed by Woody Allen
Medusa Distribuzione & Sony Pictures Classics