Woody Allen’s Grand Tour Continues

06/20/2012 4:00 AM |

To Rome with Love
Directed by Woody Allen

Whether or not it was deliberate, it makes sense that Woody Allen would follow his greatest commercial success since 1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters with something similar. Like the $56 million-grossing Midnight in Paris, his latest, To Rome with Love, is a romantic portrait of a great old European capital that acknowledges both its yesterdays and today. Rome isn’t about nostalgia like Paris, but the city’s past is present in every frame, conspicuous on every street and in every facade, serving as the backdrop for the uniquely modern misadventures of a diverse group of contemporary Romans: natives and transplants, both Italian
and international.

Allen tells four silly, absurd, and unrelated stories, each about characters struggling with the conflict between the longing for excitement—for fame or sex—and the desire for something stabler. Allen plays a retired opera director who tries to turn a funeral director with a voice like Caruso into a star; Roberto Benigni plays an everyman transformed into a superstar for literally no reason. Newlyweds from the Italian countryside travel to the big city and get caught up in sexual hijinx; and Jesse Eisenberg falls for his girlfriend’s best friend, while Alec Baldwin, as a kind of magical observer, offers critical commentary on their illicit courtship.

Against eternally excellent architecture, the ruins of a once great civilization, we observe the petty shenanigans of the ruins of human culture—modern humanity, with its vapid fame complexes and psychosexual obsessions. Allen may be aiming at easy targets, but the movie, though trifling, is very funny, and features strong performances by an excellent cast (which also includes Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page, Judy Davis, Alison Pill, and many Italians). It’s also smart but, smartly, won’t take itself too seriously. “With age comes wisdom,” Eisenberg observes. “With age,” Baldwin corrects, “comes exhaustion.” Though Allen still shows no signs of slowing; an “Untitled Woody Allen Project” is already slated for 2013.

Opens June 22