To Rome With Love (12A)

Written and directed by Woody Allen
Screening at FACT from 28th September 2012

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

The recent Grand Tour continues. Barcelona, Paris and now the Eternal City is the golden backdrop to this latest quirky and off-beat enterprise. However this light weight situationist comedy has a cloud hanging over it which the willing performers cannot quite dispel.

Appearing in his own right Allen (Jerry), is an eccentric opera producer. He opens the film on a Rome-bound flight with his astute psychologist wife Phyllis (Judy Davis), to meet a potential son-in-law. The plane meets with turbulence while attempting to land safely. This will be mirrored in the uneasiness of conflicting plots seeking a soft landing.

The future father-in-law runs a funeral parlour and has a great voice when singing in the shower; this produces some of the best laughs later on. After a heated discussion over cicchetti and wine, followed by an disastrous arranged audition, Jerry finds the inspiration to get the reluctant tenor on to the concert platform.

A world away, but arriving by train, a love struck young couple, Antonio and Milly, come to the city to enhance their prospects. As slight an event as getting her hair right prior to formal family introductions leads to the next perambulatory departure.

Ending up lost among the populace she stumbles into a film-set romantic liaison that does not conclude as expected. Her husband, meanwhile, has to deal with the hands-on problem of call-girl Anna (Penelope Cruz) who mistakenly arrives at the right time in the wrong place. She has to stand in for the errant wife to the less than amused garden party guests awaiting the couples arrival.

Enter next nondescript Leopoldo (Robert Benigni), a dour office worker, swept to his fifteen minutes in the sun only to fall back to earth when media infatuation wanes and the cameras are turned on a new instant nobody. The message: celebrity brings with it the good life, the capacity to enjoy fame, favour and the power that goes with it - but only when you control it.

In a quieter part of town, internationally respected architect John (Alec Baldwin) is nostalgically visiting the haunts of his student past. Recognised by new kid on the block Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) he is invited back home to meet the girlfriend. Acting as a chiming bellwether the worldly-wise builder attempts to stop their relationship crumbling when a sassy tomboy turns up to rock the boat.

And that is it. Four scenarios that do not meld into an integrated, satisfying whole and barely held together by the narrative voice-over traffic cop. The latter opens the film in a square of circling congestion. He finishes it like a watered-down Prospero eulogising above a musical out-pouring on the Spanish Steps.

For Allen then, this is 'such stuff as dreams are made on'. Beautiful to look at but with no depth or continuity.

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