Film Review – To Rome With Love

To Rome With Love (M)

Directed by: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Judy Davis, Ellen Page, Roberto Benigni, Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin

Three stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Hey guys, it’s ok to cheat on your partner, Woody Allen says so.  Not only that, he thinks it’s funny. Oh, and try to do  it in Rome if you can, it is much more romantic that way. This troubling stance on infidelity from a man with his own spotty history undermines what is otherwise an easily digestible, perfectly charming outing that takes a look at several relationships that unravel in Rome, dripping with Allen’s trademark affection for European cities.

In possibly his most ambitious move in his long career, he attempts to meld into the twisted relationship-y hijinks some amusing digs at celebrity and our absurd and unwarranted obsession with those in the spotlight. While it is clear that the two separate issues are awkward side by side in the same film, the celebrity mocking comes off as some of the more entertaining aspects.

Phyllis (Judy Davis) and Jerry (Woody Allen) fly to Rome to visit their daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) who is engaged to Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) after a whirlwind romance. Jerry, a frustrated, retired opera director with an eye for the unusual, hears Michelangelo’s father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) singing in the shower and pounces on the opportunity to help launch him a singing career and relaunch his own career. The only problems are Giancarlo’s disapproving family and the fact he only sings well in the shower.

Jack (Jessie Eisenberg) and Sally (Greta Gerwig) take in overtly sexual friend Monica (Ellen Page) who is on vacation after recently busting up with her boyfriend. Jack is attracted to Monica and flirts with the idea of having a fling with her, all the while imaginary (or maybe not) John (Alec Baldwin) tries desperately to dissuade him.

Newlyweds Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) arrive from out-of-town but are separated and Milly gets lost in the labyrinthine streets. She stumbles upon a film set and fights off urges to sleep with famous actor Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese). Meanwhile, prostitute Anna (Penelope Cruz) is mistakenly sent to Antonio’s hotel room for some nookie and is passed off as Milly to his upper crust family.

And middle-aged family man Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) wakes up one day to instant fame – for no particular reason – and finds the press and his new-found fans are clambering to know what he ate for breakfast and whether he shaves before or after his meal. He, too, succumbs to the temptation of young hot things throwing themselves at him. He subsequently must also deal with no longer being the flavour of the month.

The scenery is attractive and the cast is delightful but one can’t help but feel Allen is trying to pull the wool over our eyes by sugar-coating so much bad behaviour. Extramarital affairs are romanticised and treated as a source for a few light-hearted laughs. Monica refuses to sleep with Jack in her best friend’s house. But the car is ok. Ba-doom-tish. Likewise married Milly’s rationalisation for her affair with a superstar: “better to sleep with a celebrity and regret it than not sleep with him and regret it.”

The misplaced humour is nowhere near as distasteful as when P.J. Hogan tried to draw laughs from a date rape anecdote in Mental, and it may fly over the heads of most audience members. But take a step back and the act of sugar-coating this unacceptable behaviour is often offensive. Without any consequence to all the cheating, and sweetening the deal with a few postcard shots of Rome, Allen is sending a dangerous message. On the other hand, Allen’s own story thread gets progressively wacky as his character tries anything to get his new client world-wide fame, and except for Leopoldo’s sexual indiscretions, his story is also fun to watch unfold. It’s just too bad the championed bed-hopping leaves a sour taste.

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