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 Woody Allen's To Rome With Love

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: Woody Allen's To Rome With Love   Sat Sep 15, 2012 11:31 pm

Come the mid-2000's, Woody Allen's career as a director had a huge question mark hanging over it. A few years previously, Steven Spielberg had given him a lucrative deal at DreamWorks Pictures. After scandal in the 1990's, it seemed like a brilliant way to get Woody back to a mainstream audience, but the films were poorly promoted, and they didn't have the spark or the bite that his early films did, and Woody said so. Even his usual band of financial backers were turning their backs on him, it would seem his days as a director were numbered. Then, he was offered the chance to make a film in the UK by BBC Films. Match Point (2005) would be his biggest financial hit in years and Woody even said it was one of the best films he'd ever made. He stuck around in the UK for Scoop (2006), Cassandra's Dream (2007) and You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (2010). But the UK was just the beginning, Woody also went to Spain for Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) and then France for Midnight in Paris (2011), the latter of which became his biggest box-office success ever, which someone clicked with audiences, and won Woody an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Europe has rejuvenated Woody, and he's shown he can do good outside his native New York. For his new film, he's gone to another European capital, a film which is a slighter affair than Midnight in Paris, but it has some hilarious moments, both silly and absurd, but it works. To Rome With Love is a quartet of vignettes showing different sides to Rome, focusing on fame, chance encounters and misunderstandings.

Divided into 4 stories, it has retired opera director Jerry (Woody) and his wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) fly to Rome when they hear their daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) falls in love with young lawyer Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). Even though Jerry is nonplussed about Michelangelo's views on the unions, he discovers that Michelangelo's father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) has a beautiful operatic voice. But Giancarlo is reluctant to share his personal talent with the world, and he can only sing in the shower, forcing Jerry to come up with an ingenious solution. Meanwhile, newlyweds Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) have moved to Rome as Antonio's uncles have offered him a job. Milly goes off to a salon, but gets lost in Rome. But there's a misunderstanding as prostitute Anna (PenÚlope Cruz) comes to his door, and then the uncles turn up. Across town, visiting American John (Alec Baldwin) meets young architect Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) who live on a street John did years before. Sally's friend Monica (Ellen Page) comes to stay after a messy break-up, Jack falls for Monica, but John is around to give advice on their affair. The fourth story in the film revolves around clerk Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), a simple family man, who wakes up one morning to find, for no reason, that he's become a celebrity, with the Italian paparazzi following him around asking what he had for breakfast and when he shaves and whether he wears Y-fronts or boxers.

It is a very silly film, but it's very enjoyable. It's not meant to be an accurate representation of what the real Rome is like, and it does feel like an old fashioned travelogue in places, using locations like the Spanish steps and the Trevi Fountain. But, Woody brings the best out in this exotic, romantic city, with beautiful cinematography by Darius Khondji, (who worked with Woody on Anything Else and Midnight in Paris). But, overall it is a delightfully light and fluffy film, reveling in fantasy, farce and surrealism in places. Woody does get criticism these days for the way he makes his films, minimal takes and little rehearsal times, and making one a year, some of them good, some mediocre. But, they have a natural feel about them. Even if his London based ones had a quite stereotypical view of the English upper-classes. Here, in Rome, Woody is able to pay homage to one of his filmmaking heroes. Federico Fellini, whom he's paid a debt of gratitude to with Stardust Memories (1980) and Radio Days (1987). It's a bright sunny Rome, which is warm to look at. Woody even handles the Italian spoken in two of the segments well, if anyone remembers the Italian segment in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), that would have fitted within To Rome With Love with ease.

Woody has been off screen since Scoop (2006), and his presence has been sorely missed, so he makes a welcome return to the screen here as Jerry, and Woody is his usual self, depreciating of everything and coming out with some crackerjack dialogue such as "I was never a communist, I could never share a bathroom!!". It's good to have him back, it reminds you of how funny he can be, while Davis (who worked with Woody on Husbands and Wives, Deconstructing Harry and Celebrity) is funny when she's putting Woody down. The real stand-outs in the cast are Baldwin as John, who acts as the cautious conscience to Jack and Monica, he's seen all these mistakes youngsters go through, as he's lived through it once before. Eisenberg is likeable as Jack, and he's a perfect fit for a Woody Allen film, critics compared him in Zombieland to a young Woody, and he does well working with the man himself, and there's good chemistry between him and Ellen Page. Woody writes some great female parts, and he does well with Page's femme fatale, an impulsive young actress with a story or two about love. Cruz, who won an Oscar for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, reunites with Woody here, doing a perfect Sophia Loren take as the prostitute. The Italian cast are brilliant, led by the great Roberto Benigni, who is slightly restrained as the bewildered Leopoldo, but he's a perfect Woody creation, he enjoys fame, but he learns a thing or two along the way. Italian comedy actor Alessandro Tiberi is very funny as the weedy Antonio who end's up with Cruz and real life tenor Fabio Armiliato as Giancarlo, who gets to do one of the most bizarre operatic takes on Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci ever, but it's hilarious.





It might not be vintage Woody Allen, but it's better than most of his recent films, and it's best enjoyed with an audience to share the mirth with. It's a light and bubbly film which is a great way to pass two hours, and it's very uplifting too, it raises the spirits, and it's a great way to help forget your troubles. Woody and the cast seem to have had fun making it, even if it went through a couple of title changes before they settled on To Rome With Love. It was originally The Bop Decameron, a reference to Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron, which was a book of vignettes, rather like this film is, but international distributors didn't get it. So Woody changed it again to Nero Fiddled, (which was best), but again, no-one outside America got it, so the more commercial To Rome With Love was chosen. Love is very much on the menu in this film, Woody as Jerry and his love of the operatic voice of Giancarlo, the temporary love triangle of Antonio, Milly and Anna, the love affair between Jack and Monica, with John giving an audio commentary, and Leopoldo loving the perks of being a celebrity, even if it does have it's downsides. It won't make anyone new to Woody Allen's films a fan, but it's good to see a lighter side to him, as he's good at that, rather than being dark and preachy as is the case in his more recent films. But, he gets the best out of his cast, and it's good to see him back in front of the camera. He's been missed. Smile
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