Movie Review: To Rome with Love, written and directed by Woody Allen

With an over-sized brace on my knee, a bottle of Vicodin in my pocket and a set of “just-a-bit-too-tall” crutches, I limped down to the corner, grabbed the 57 Bus on 4th street, and rode it to Walnut where I hobbled over to the theater to see Woody Allen’s latest film, To Rome with Love.

I used the word “hobble” intentionally because that was what Woody Allen seemed to have done with this collection of slight stories set in Rome, the eternal city. He took several disparate tales and hobbled them into some sort of unity– a whimsical investigation of fame and celebrity, set under the bright Roman sun. (It is noteworthy, that very few scenes take place after sunset–there is the finale on the Spanish steps and a cheesy storm-scene in the Roman Baths. The rest is filmed beautifully in the bright Italian sun.)

There are four basic stories:

♦ a young architect with dreams of greatness and confused romanticism is being advised by the pedestrian man he will become.

♦ a funeral director with a magnificent operatic voice can only sing in the shower.

♦ a newly wedded bride is seduced by a celebrated actor, an incompetent hotel thief, and her newly educated husband.

♦ a middle-class man becomes famous for no reason at all.

Each story is successful to varying degrees.  And each has its own charm…to varying degrees.

Alec Baldwin plays the elder architect watching his younger self stumble through a risky affair. Woody Allen himself plays a retired opera impresario trying to get the shy mortician to sing on stage. The Italian actress, Alessandra Mastronardi,  plays the timid newlywed who is bedazzled by her favorite actor. And Roberto Benigni plays the hapless man who becomes–for no reason at all–the most famous man in Rome.  The stories are not connected but move from one to another easily.

Allen has proven before that no one makes a location look as attractive as he can, and here again, he does for Rome what he has previously done for Paris, Barcelona, London, and–most readily–New York.  He also proves that he has the ability to get wonderful performances from his actors.  Alec Baldwin is all self-effacing and snarky wisdom; Penelope Cruz seems to be channeling those  mid-century Italian film stars–Sophia Loren and Gina Lollabrigida; Benigni is permitted to clown with little restraint; and even the young actors–Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, and Ellen Page–are given room to breathe into their roles.  On screen, Allen, reprises the role he has played forever–the neurotic, death-fearing, nebbish.  But perhaps the most extraordinary performance is that by the great, internationally-acclaimed tenor, Fabio Armilato, who plays a man who can only sing in the shower and who gamely lets Allen place him in several showers throughout the film.

Allen has long proclaimed his love of European movies–he famously dabbled in Bergman-esque type films in the late 1970s–and earlier this summer he listed four Italian movies that he felt influenced him profoundly. Two were by the director Vittorio de Sica (The Bicycle Thief and Shoeshine), one by Michelangelo Antonini (Blow-up) and one by Federico Fellini (Armacord). He stated that these films changed the way stories could be told, a narrative arc very similar to that which he would use in many of his own films.

He quipped about his love of European film: “I wanted nothing more than to be a foreign film director, but, of course, I was from Brooklyn which is not a foreign country.”

And yet, while To Rome with Love is an entertaining two hours, it is much less substantial than the four films he had referenced. Even as a comedy, it lacks a certain gravitas.

No, by no means is To Rome with Love a hearty, four-course Italian meal–and maybe it is not meant to be.

Simply, it is a lovely four-scoop of gelato. And sometimes that’s all you need to get you through a Saturday afternoon.

If you haven’t seen the trailer, here it is:

Movie Review: Lola versus…boredom and apathy

I just don’t care.

That was my dominant emotion while watching Lola versus.  As this young 29-year old battles an aborted romance, the tightrope of clubbing, parental micro-managing, and the demands and restraints of friendship, I never once was on her side.  I  wasn’t against her, mind you. I just didn’t care.

Lola’s story begins with a dream sequence. (Usually not a good sign!)  She is doing yoga on the beach when wave after wave of trash washes up. Her conclusion-on her 29th birthday–is that she must learn to make her way through all the shit that life throws at her.

And then she is awakened by her boyfriend bringing her a cake and blowing a birthday horn in her ear.

Very quickly, the boy proposes, wedding plans get over-complicate, a “quirky” female friend and a “platonic” male friend celebrate, and the fiancé calls over the engagement. I guess this is the crap that life is throwing at her.

The rest of the film deals with her coping…and moping.

In fact, the only times when there seems to be any energy in the film is when Lola’s parents are in screen.  They are played by veterans Bill Pullman and Debra Winger, and I often wondered what they where doing in this movie, or why they signed on in the first place.

  Lola herself is played by Greta Gerwig and Luke, the man who dumped her, by Joel Kinnaman.  Kinnaman will be vaguely familiar as the lead detective in the U.S. television series The Killing, while Gerwig is a bright, intelligent actress who still has not found a decent movie for her to star in. (Perhaps, Woody Allen will be able to tap in best to her talents in To Rome with Love, in which she stars.)

The film was co-written by Zoe Lister Jones, who also plays the quirky girl-friend Alice who acts as a foil to Lola’s moodiness.  Lister seems infatuated with the script she wrote and seems to find her lines clever and hilarious when in fact they are less than sophomoric and sadly trite.

Even New York seems tired.  There is no depth–of New York excitement or of urban alienation–to any of the location sites and the interiors are often a confused jumble of …interiors. One is never quite sure if one is in Lola’s, Alice’s, Henry’s or Luke’s place.

Lola is working on her PH.D. dissertation which concerns silence in 19th-century French literature. (And of course there are the shots of an anguished Lola in front of a laptop, unable to move forward because of the devastation in her love life.) When the subject of her dissertation is introduced there are some clever moments of silence–in a restaurant, in a college meeting, on the street. But, one finishes the film wishing there was more…silence that is.