To Rome With Love is not an homage to a Sidney Poitier film about a teacher, although perhaps that’s a misnomer. There are lessons to be learned by almost every character we are introduced to in this film, the third stop on his “tour” of Europe (Midnight in Paris and Vicky Christina Barcelona being the others).
Here I must confess to having loved the films of Woody Allen back when he was producing brilliant pieces like Sleeper, Annie Hall, Bananas and Manhattan. But his later works didn’t resonate as well. My faith has been rewarded as To Rome With Love is his best effort in some time, filled with typical Allen one-liners and a cast of wonderful characters.
“Hayley” (Alison Pill) is on an extended vacation in Rome and she asks a handsome passing stranger for directions. “Michelangelo” (Flavio Parenti) is going in that direction and offers to show her the way. Soon they’ve fallen in love and her parents “Jerry” (Woody Allen) and “Phyllis” (Judy Davis) are en route to Rome to meet their future son-in-law and his parents.
Jerry doesn’t like anything about Michelangelo including his politics and his legal work on behalf of the downtrodden but soon that doesn’t matter. It seems that Michelangelo’s father “Giancarlo” (Fabio Armiliato) sings opera in the shower and sings it magnificently. Jerry is retired from promoting classical music and operas and immediately wants to put Giancarlo on stage to make sure this magnificent gift of a voice gets heard by others. Michelangelo is opposed, but Jerry is determined.
Meanwhile a young couple has just arrived in Rome. “Antonio” (Alessandro Tiberi) and “Milly” (Alessandra Mastronardi) come from a small village, but he has aunts and uncles in Rome and arrives with a promised job in hand. She is worried that she doesn’t look good enough for her man, so she goes off to get her hair done before his family arrives to meet her.
Soon there is a knock at the door and “Anna” (Penelope Cruz), a prostitute who was hired to seduce and please another man, but somehow got the wrong room number enters. Antonio has no pants on and just as Anna manages to get him onto the bed, the door opens and the aunts and uncles enter. A frightened Antonio then introduces Anna as his wife Milly and begs her to carry out the deception until he can find a way to make things right.
“Jack” (Jessie Eisenberg) is a student of architecture out for a walk. His girlfriend “Sally” (Greta Gerwig) is at home when Jack passes by “John” (Alec Baldwin) who is a famous architect. John is alone having ditched his companions who went sightseeing which he has no desire to do. He lived for a year in Rome long ago and he wants to visit his old stomping grounds.
He lets Jack lead him there and then Jack invites him up to his apartment when it turns out this is the building John lived in. There, Sally mentions that her best friend “Monica” (Ellen Page) is about to arrive and John realizes what a problem this means for Jack, even though Jack doesn’t.
Then there’s the story of “Leopoldo” (Roberto Begnini) who is an ordinary Italian citizen, a low-level clerk who lives with his wife and children in Rome. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, the press is pursuing and fawning all over Leopoldo and this is going to change his life in a major way. They want to know what he ate, and to watch him shave. He is as big a celebrity in Italy, for a no-talent, low-level clerk, as some big-bottomed, no-talent woman is, here in the U.S. Of course, she has a fame-whore mother and Leopoldo has only a wife who loves him.
This is typical Allen, stories that weave in and out of one another, not entirely linear in chronologic structure and that’s not really important. Allen has written himself in some form in nearly every character he creates here, although in smaller measures in some than in others. Jack is clearly the younger Allen, confronted with a woman who loves him (Sally) while he himself soon desires another (Monica).
What happens to them all you will have to go and see for yourself. John becomes a device, an advisor of sorts to Jack, telling him the perils he faces in dealing with Monica. He is interesting because Allen chooses not to make him invisible to others, so Sally and Monica also see him. Leopold is an example of the stars of reality TV who are famous for simply being famous. He also has an important lesson to learn. Antonio and Milly confront temptation while Jerry finds a way to put a man who is only at home singing in a shower onto a stage in front of an audience (the answer is simply hysterical).
All is resolved before the movies ends, much as it begins. It’s nearly two hours of laughter and thought-provoking filmmaking and should not be missed.