No introduction. To Rome With Love is freaking good!
The film presents four concurrently separate storylines, all set in the city of Rome. The first story is about Jerry (played by Woody Allen) on a vacation with his wife to visit his daughter Hayley (played by Alison Pill) and her Italian fiance Michelangelo. Jerry’s convinced that Michelangelo’s father, Giancarlo, has an operatic voice and should put his talent forward. I won’t spoil it, because what happens next is unbelievably hilarious! The second storyline has an aspiring architect Jack (played by Jesse Eisenberg) living in Rome with his girlfriend Sally. Sally’s best friend Monica (played by Ellen Page) is an actress on vacation who recently broke up with her boyfriend, and allowing her to stay in their apartment, Jack starts to have the hots for her. Also in that story, Alec Baldwin plays a well-known architect cautioning over Jack and Monica’s actions and interacting with them in a surrealistic manner for most of the story. The next storyline is of an average Italian family man, Leopoldo (played by Roberto Benigni), who suddenly becomes famous out of nowhere: the paparazzi start following him everywhere, asking questions like “what did you have for breakfast?”, and everyone treats him like a celebrity. But this just makes him confused as to why it even started and also drives him a bit nuts. Finally, we have an Italian newlywed couple, Antonio and Milly, in their honeymoon. Milly gets lost in Rome and soon stumbles across an incredibly famous Italian actor (played by Antonio Albanese). At the same time, a prostitute named Anna (played by Penelope Cruz. Geesh, I didn’t know she could speak Italian!) gets the wrong hotel room thinking that she’s supposed to sleep with Antonio. He tries to make her leave, but just as Antonio’s relatives walk into the bedroom, he tells them that Anna is Milly to avoid confusion. So Anna has to spend the rest of the day in Rome with Antonio and his relatives pretending to be married to Antonio!
The ensemble cast is excellent! All their performances are hilarious and they play their roles very well. It’s amazing how they got old and new actors together. Combining the old with the new is something Woody Allen tends to do a lot, especially in his recent films. I’m glad to see Woody Allen is back and still has his humour intact, both in his writing and in his performance.
I absolutely love Woody Allen. I love his writing style, I love his humour, and I love his main themes. I really admire his work, and although not all of his films are perfect or that great, when he hits that mark he REALLY hits that mark! So did To Rome With Love hit that mark? Absolutely. This film is hysterical, smart, enjoyable, beautiful to look at, and just a fantastic time from beginning to end.
Allen’s a very strong definition of a film auteur: he essentially writes the same characters (often those he plays himself) but places them in a different scenario or presents a different way of telling a story. His themes are usually about human relationships (often love), human desire (like fame and fortune), nostalgia, the value and meaning of art, and some social commentary over how the media affects our lives. You can find so many similarities in his writing that you can practically make a drinking game out of it: Take a drink every time a character says “pseudo-intellectual”! Take a drink if your main character is some sort of artist, designer or writer! So what can I say about To Rome With Love that I can’t say about all the other Allen films like Annie Hall or Manhattan? For this I feel like I should bring up two more of Allen latest films.
Even though these films aren’t really released back-to-back, I always considered Vicky Christina Barcelona (released in 2008), Midnight in Paris (released last year) and To Rome With Love (this year) a trilogy: they’re all set in a great European city, having one or more characters reflecting their own lives with the influence of the city. Interesting as Woody Allen usually sets his films in Manhattan and sometimes Hollywood. But it’s not just the fact that he’s setting these films in a new location. The location adds to the kind of scenario he’s looking for. Again, he may have the same characters, but the story and scenario is always different, as well as how the story’s told. But if the themes are the same, is Woody Allen just repeating a message over and over again? Kinda, but not exactly. He does repeat a lot of himself, but they’re explored in different ways and levels. Sometimes one theme will be much more focused than the other.
Midnight in Paris was about a man who wanted to write a novel, and found inspiration in Paris not just because of its history in art, but also because it really enforced his nostalgia and love for the past. Most of Allen’s themes are present there, but the main focus of the film comes from memory and nostalgia, and how your own art can represent yourself as a human being. It was essential that the film took place in Paris.
A common thing in Allen’s films is for a person to be given their particular wish or desire, and how, once given, they cope with it individually and between other people. As I said, To Rome With Love has four segments. Let’s look at these:
In Jerry’s storyline, is he trying make someone else’s dream come true to relive his own aspirations, or does he also truly care about the guy’s potential? Is this just an opportunity that he stumbles upon? And how far is he willing to go to relive that dream? As you’ll see in the film later… pretty dang far!
The young architect’s storyline is pretty much a typical contemporary rom-com. But what’s different is that it’s very aware of itself, especially with the character John, the famous architect played by Baldwin. He’s not just someone who comments over the young architect’s story. He’s also a representation of Jack’s consciousness. Maybe he’s an older man trying to tell his younger self not to make the same mistake he did as a young man. Telling him not get fooled by his own fantasies.
The third storyline, about the average man becoming famous for no reason, is both a satire over the celebrity hype, but also a commentary over what it means to become a celebrity. It’s not just money, but it’s also the fact that people will recognise you and you mean something to them, whether you do anything or nothing at all.
The final storyline is all about adultery. The couple aren’t bad people, and they don’t regret marrying each other at all. Antonio doesn’t want anyone to believe, not even himself, that he’s a bad person. Anna, the prostitute, is a representation of a kind of desire he BEARS to have. He doesn’t want to have any of those fantasies, because he believes in love and wants to be fully devoted to his wife, to the point that he wouldn’t have sex until marriage. As for Milly, she has this fantasy of sleeping with a movie star, and finally get a chance right after she gets married to Antonio. If she ever does have sex with someone else and move on with her life, how would this affect her love for Antonio? Yes, you should have commitment to your partner, but you shouldn’t ground yourself entirely.
Like most Woody Allen films, these stories shout out the benefits and complications of love and showing how human desire, especially sexual desires, can get in the way of things. You might really care for others, but part of us has something that we’d want to fulfil or have as an individual. Maybe fame is one of them. That wouldn’t necessarily mean you’re entirely selfish, but what we fantasise is part of what makes us so human in the first place. Fame, sexual desires and achievement and how they affect you and the people around you links all of these stories together. Rome is one of those places of love and art: something very humanistic about ourselves. Although Rome in particular has a long history, knowledge and art legacy. Even Italian cinema seems to be a constant reference, even within the cast itself. Rome’s known as “the Eternal City”, even in the past, because it will go on forever. The legacy and history that it brought was what made it so famous. That’s why it’s known as eternal. So with the three themes I mentioned, it kinda makes sense to set the film in Rome. These four stories take a comedic, but also interesting take on those subjects, with characters reacting to different situations.
To Rome With Love is so far the best movie I’ve seen this year. I laughed all the way through the film. Combining the old with something new, this film takes funny and interesting turns and it’s incredibly enjoyable! I’m so glad Woody Allen still has it. Although I probably preferred Midnight in Paris, it’s still worth the watch.
Now that he visited three European cities, I can’t wait for him to tackle London next! Oh wait, he did. Like four times. And I haven’t seen any of them. Hey, I love Woody Allen, but I never said I saw all of his films!