(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on 9 September 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/allen-minus-the-madness)
Cast: Woody Allen, Roberto Benigni, Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg and others
Director: Woody Allen
Rating: 3.5 stars
A bevy of stars playing small roles, check. Woody Allen playing a neurotic character, check. Happy couples thwarted by temptation, check. Unhappy man whose passions are stirred, check. Man with a bizarre case of conditional talent, check. Yes, it’s one of those fun movies Woody Allen makes between his truly great movies.
Now, Woody Allen is either the awesome guy who regularly messes with our heads, or the weird guy who married his almost-stepdaughter. But, whatever he is, his one-liners make us laugh. (Try, “I was never a Communist. I could never share a bathroom.”) And his films make us think, even when they probably don’t intend to.
Arguably the most famous New Yorker in Hollywood, Allen has set a lot of his recent output in Europe. Here, he never lets us forget that this is Italy. It appears everyone in Rome constantly plays, sings, or thinks Volare. But there’s a certain magic to Allen’s direction that makes us feel we could be in all these places, walking with all these people.
To Rome with Love has a surreal feel to it. It may be the quirky characters, and their strange persuasions. Or the fact that the crazy things they do seem only natural. Or maybe it’s the way Alec Baldwin seems to materialise out of thin air to give advice to a man torn between his girlfriend and his lust. Whether he’s the sententious voice of society, or personification of avuncular concern, is left to us to contemplate, if we’re in the mood to.
We trace four stories, which share a tenuous link, occurring in the same city – Rome – and dealing with aspects of the same ideal – love. My favourite is the one involving Allen himself, as a retired opera director who chances upon a great find in the bathroom, when all he wants to do is meet his future son-in-law and leave.
The whims of the paparazzi, and what they can drive one to do, have been the premise of several films, including Matteo Garrone’sReality. Here, Roberto Benigni plays Leopoldo, an ordinary man who catches just a glimpse of life under the flashbulbs. Would you trade your privacy for fame? And when you’ve been famous, can you ever be comfortable with anonymity?
The two other stories dwell on appearance and fortune. What happens when a simple country girl meets an actor she has fantasised about? Can a colourless woman morph into a seductress? The perfect casting and the Woody Allen template channel our concurrence towards the characters’ decisions.
The Verdict: Breezy and offbeat, the film is likeable even when it brazenly demands our indulgence.