To Rome With Love is a light, heartwarming film made for dreamers and lovers that moves between several story lines with witty dialogue and lots of laughs. The film reintroduces us to many of the devices seen in the most traditional of Woody Allen films, including an appearance by Allen himself.
The film is constructed of four diverging stories about love, fame and longing. In the first sequence the audience is introduced to Italian newlyweds who’ve come to Rome to meet with the husband’s high-society family. Next we encounter an average, middle-class Roman (Roberto Benigni) and his wife and family whose lives are turned upside down by the media. In another story, Jesse Eisenberg plays a young architect who lives with his girlfriend, and meets his idol (Alec Baldwin), in passing on the street. Baldwin plays a famous American architect, who later serves as a Metaphysical, prophet-like, figure when an unexpected visitor (Ellen Page) comes into the young couple’s lives.
Perhaps one of the best things about the film is Woody Allen’s presence in it, after several years of working only behind the camera. His first appearance in the film is like encountering an old friend. Allen plays a retired opera music producer, married to a psychiatrist (Judy Davis), and the father of an American tourist (Amanda Pill) recently engaged to a local whose father owns a funeral home and also happens to be a very talented singer. Allen’s character quickly begins scheming on how to make them all rich using the man’s talent, rounding out the fourth and final story.
Unlike many of the vignettes in Allen films of the past, these stories never intersect with one another, they are connected only by the city in which they are told and their overlapping themes. The film raises questions about making practical choices versus following ones dreams, and ultimately the message seems to be one of Carpe diem, though not without consequences, of course.
Some of the vignettes are stronger than others. One highlight is the storyline including Ellen Page’s character, one of Allen’s finest female creations since Judy Davis’s Sally in Husbands and Wives, though on a much lighter scale, of a female incapable of finding contentment. She’s a free-spirited, out-of-work actress with a knack for playing a real life intellectual and lover, and Page gives a delightful yet satirical performance as this emotional fraud.
Other highpoints are when Robert Benigni takes center stage in the story as a normal man who becomes “famous for being famous,” no doubt a spoof on America’s preoccupation with fame and entertainment. It’s a character Allen could have played himself had the movie been shot in America, and Benigni does a fabulous job of channeling his inner-Allen.
To Rome with Love will inevitably be compared to last year’s highly successful Midnight in Paris, though perhaps that’s a little unfair. Aside from their European backdrops, the films could not be more different. So, if you’re looking for a remake of that film with all of it’s magic in a new location, you may be disappointed. On the other hand, it’s a film that true Allen fans and followers will likely appreciate. Each story uses different elements reminiscent Allen’s earlier surrealist, comedic works, and those of his lighter romantic comedies, all the while maintaining the ever- present preoccupation with larger questions of death and mortality.