To Rome With Love (2012)
AKA Bop Decameron, Nero Fiddled
Starring Alison Pill, Flavio Parenti, Woody Allen, Judy Davis, Fabio Armiliato, Roberto Benigni, Monica Nappo, Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page, Alessandro Tiberi, Alessandra Mastronardi, Penélope Cruz
Directed by Woody Allen
Expectations: Moderate, but I’m always thrilled to see a new Woody Allen film.
I liked To Rome With Love more than Midnight in Paris. I thought Midnight in Paris was good and gorgeous and truly inspired, but it didn’t feel like a true Woody Allen film to me (not to mention that it wasn’t all that funny). That’s fine, as it wasn’t that type of movie, but in certain ways To Rome With Love is the Allen film I’ve been waiting for: a light-hearted, straight-up comedy with a distinct Allen feel. If I had believed the press about To Rome With Love, I would’ve missed out on an enjoyable film — good thing I never really cared about the press for Woody Allen films. To Rome With Love is filled with fun scenarios that lead to absurd bursts of hilarity, and while it is a little too unfocused between all its storylines, I didn’t much care as I was having so much fun.
Like many of Allen’s 2000s films, To Rome With Love is set in an iconic European city and it doubles as an incredible looking travel film. This time, instead of a single story, Allen decided to tell four unrelated tales. They never come together, and they never feel like they should. In fact, it’s clear that each one exists on its own timeline, as a couple of days go by in the Roberto Benigni timeline while only an hour or so passes for another of the stories. Odd as it may sound, this is never jarring at all. I do feel like the film is a bit overstuffed — perhaps three stories would have been smoother — but I’m at a loss to decide which one to cut. They all work together well in an abstract sort of way, and provide a lot of classic Woody Allen entertainment.
Thematically, it does feels like a couple of the stories are playing off of each other, but my attempts to draw any real meaning from this has resulted in a lot of random, disparate thoughts. One story lampoons reality TV and its non-talented stars, while a different story concerns a truly talented man with no drive for success being pushed into the business by Woody Allen’s character. It seems natural to look for some substance between the cuts, but I really don’t think there is much. Perhaps re-watches will reveal something I missed, but it honestly feels like Allen is simply trying to tell a few unrelated, funny stories. Some might say this is Allen losing his touch, but when it’s so ridiculously enjoyable (at least to this hardcore Allen fan) it’s hard for me to even fathom that concept. Allen feels so in control at every moment, and I would think that if he’s earned anything, he’s earned respect enough for viewers to know that whatever he’s doing, he’s doing it deliberately.
One of the aspects of To Rome With Love that I found quite intriguing, and also quite unexpected, was that it traded in light fantasy and surreal elements akin to Midnight in Paris. It doesn’t go full-bore like that film, but there’s one story in particular that is definitely happening (at least in part) in one of the character’s minds. Through the whole movie I assumed it was the mind of a certain character, only to reconsider that position right before I started writing this. I know I’m being vague, but this kind of discovery is the thing that should never be spoiled, and to even go into it like this is probably too much. Whatever, you’re the one reading reviews of movies you haven’t seen, so that’s on you. Although, this brings to mind a new type of movie blog, one where there are “Quiz Gates” to each review. The reader would need to prove that they had seen the film by answering questions about it, and if they succeeded they would get to the review. Spoilers would be a thing of the past! But, back to the fabricated reality of Woody Allen…
Even if I could find no direct thematic links, I do think there’s something of an overall theme of characters having their modernity taken away from them, and being forced into human interactions with the world around them. It’s super loose, and I’m sure there’s more evidence against it than there is that corroborates it, but I like it, so I’m going with it. This theory of mine is all fueled by two small moments in the film. One comes early, where one of the characters, lost in Rome, loses her cell phone. After this point, things begins to happen to our characters that we and they could never have dreamed possible. The fantasies are much more grounded than Midnight in Paris‘s, but they are fantasies nonetheless. I’ll have to watch this again to confirm it, but I didn’t specifically notice any other modern technology until towards the end of the film where a character receives a cellphone call, after which the fantasies are shattered and come to an end. If this is true, it would seem that Allen has more in mind for the film than four simple tales, but who knows?
I can’t help but draw comparisons between the critical backlash to this film and the scene when Roberto Benigni and his wife and friends leave a movie theater, discussing a rather challenging film. Benigni loves it, while the others all say they didn’t get it and are obviously frustrated that they spent their evening with it. Benigni raves about the film’s enigmatic qualities and then says, “The director didn’t want you to understand. Life’s mystery… the atmospheric cinematography. Did you see that shot?” The others are completely disinterested, but are excited when it seems as if Brad Pitt might be in the middle of a group of paparazzi up ahead. Certain people will always be fascinated by the search for meaning, while others will always have their meanings defined by others. I don’t know that Allen is purposefully obscuring the film’s point like the director of the fictional film, but he’s definitely not holding your hand towards any one theme or idea. What you gain from this rather light, but complex film is directly related to the amount you put into it.
I loved To Rome With Love (even if I kind of hate its generic title). It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it’s a Woody Allen film through and through, and that makes me rather happy after the much more mainstream Midnight in Paris. To Rome With Love also feels similar and like something of an homage to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, although it’s been a very long time since I saw that one, so maybe I’m way off base. In any case, if you’re a big Allen fan, ignore the general consensus and seek this one out.