out of Five
Running time: 112
Despite a typically brilliant cast and a couple of decent laughs, To Rome With Love is ultimately a disappointment, thanks to uninvolving stories, lazily recycled ideas and a script that feels underdeveloped.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Woody Allen, To Rome With Love is a comedy that tells four separate stories (tenuously linked at the beginning by an all-seeing traffic cop) as they unfold in Rome. Allen plays Jerry, a retired music director, who discovers that mortician Giancarlo (opera tenor Fabio Armiliato) can sing beautifully, but only while in the shower; Roberto Benigni plays a married office worker who becomes an overnight celebrity for no apparent reason; Jesse Eisenberg plays a Woody substitute who falls in love with the actress best friend (Ellen Page) of his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) and receives love advice from a mysteriously ever-present older man (Alec Baldwin); and Penelope Cruz plays a prostitute who has to pretend to be the wife of a neurotic man (Alessandro Tibieri) after she is accidentally introduced to his influential relatives, while his actual wife (Alessandra Mastronardi) has an adventure of her own when she meets a famous Italian actor (Antonio Albanese).
Allen has once again assembled a mouth-watering ensemble cast and the performances are mostly fine, even if some of the actors (Gerwig especially) are largely wasted. The film is at least notable for having what amounts to four Woody Allens in it: alongside Woody himself, Eisenberg, Benigni and Tibieri are all essentially Woody substitutes and Eisenberg seems particularly well suited to the role; hopefully they'll work together again in future.
To be fair, the film does deliver a handful of witty lines and it has at least one laugh-out-loud moment, a surreal scene that could have been lifted from one of Allen's short stories. In addition, in keeping with the rest of Allen's so-called travelogue phase (London, Barcelona, Paris and now Rome), the city is beautifully shot, courtesy of the director's regular cinematographer Darius Khondji.
The main problem with the film is that it all feels recycled from other sources. Worse, the script feels distinctly underdeveloped; Benigni's story doesn't do anything interesting with its central idea, while the Baldwin/Eisenberg connection is frustratingly unclear, not least because other characters can apparently see and speak to the supposedly imaginary mentor character (it's possible that Baldwin is giving advice to his younger self, but this is never explored).
It also doesn't help that Baldwin (whose comedy talents are not in question) is given the worst lines of the film, so his scenes are embarrassing and uncomfortable to watch. On top of that, none of the stories really come to life at any point, so it's hard to get involved in any of the vignettes.
The cast ensure that To Rome With Love remains watchable but it's ultimately something of a disappointment, particularly on the back of the wonderful Midnight in Paris.