The most controversial thing that I have to say about To Rome With Love is that I liked it better than Midnight in Paris. That film was essentially a “who’s who” of the era’s literature, art and cinema, but the fond familiarity that it employed to deal with personalities like Ernest Hemmingway, Salvador Dali and F. Scott Fitzgerald earned it some of the most irritating fans in memory. All had “fun” with director Woody Allen’s ninety minute flashback to nineteen-twenty-something, but seeing the sophomoric masses clambering over the film’s corpse after having referenced and analyzed it to death was depressing enough to sour what could have been a charming romp 1920s Paris. So call it even.
To Rome With Love carries none of this baggage. It is a more traditional Woody Allen film, (as I understand it) made with European flair and art house apathy towards common convention.The film plays to Allen’s strengths and utilizes its cast well, shining spotlights on Allen’s own neuroses, Alec Baldwin’s aloof sarcasm, Ellen Page’s manipulative charm and Selma Hayek’s perky lady parts. Tales of adultery, celebrity, nostalgia and opera run parallel, but they never really converge. One feels as though they’re lying in bed in an Italian hotel room, flipping between channels with the subtitles on. The stories are so completely unrelated by anything other than theme that one wonders why we can’t just watch one at a time rather than schizophrenically flipping between them.
That’s just what makes this film difficult to review. There are four threads, under one roof, yes, but spiritually isolated, like a white family living in Connecticut.
So, let’s examine To Rome With Love piece by piece.
The Separated Newlyweds.
A newly married couple from the country become lost in Rome on the first night of their honeymoon. Due to a misunderstanding, the husband must act as though a prostitute played by Selma Hayak is his wife. His actual wife has a liaison with a movie star that is interrupted by a mugging that is interrupted by something else. This is the most “out of control” segment of the film, and the characters reveal themselves to be remarkably three dimensional and likable.
Years after living in Rome as a student, an architect played by Alec Baldwin returns to his old stomping grounds and inexplicably travels time to become the superego of his younger self. The supernatural elements are handled much as they were in Midnight in Paris, using the “it just fucking happened or some shit” justification.
The young Alec Baldwin, played by Jesse Eisenberg, finds himself at the nexus of a love triangle with his girlfriend (their relationship having long gone stale) and their house guest, an out of work actress who is as manipulative as she is Ellen Page. The dialogue between Eisenberg and Baldwin is without a doubt the high point of this film.
The Water Closet Concerto
And this is the low. Though it has its moments and features Kim Pine from Scott Pilgrim, (Allison Pill. Whatever. She’s Kim to me.) the whole segment is built around a premise too implausible to believe and too forgettable to forgivable to excuse its implausibility. It all works in the greater context of the film, but largely because its broken up by the more interesting segments. And Woody Allen gets to play Woody Allen which seems important to him.
Famous for The Sake of Fame
An extended joke involving a man who wakes up one morning world famous for nothing in particular. It’s funny the first time around, but one wonders if this one note gag might hurt the re-watchability of the film.
The original title for To Rome With Love was “Nero Fiddled,” cynically changed based on the assumption that audiences wouldn’t get the reference. It’s a more honest title, one that reflects the films process. It is a series of stories about breakdowns and implosions, about paradigm shifts and tectonic disruptions in the lives of people who find their plans and preconceptions destroyed. It’s a comedy in which people’s self images are shattered. Some are put back together. Others aren’t, and the film is all the better for it.