Coming out of a screening of Woody Allen's latest film, I heard another critic say, "It's not one of his best."
Of course not. But we don't expect another "Annie Hall" or "Hannah and Her Sisters" from the director of those films. We continue seeing his films because they remain more than enjoyable diversions: A mediocre Woody Allen movie is still better than most of what else is playing.
Luckily, "To Rome With Love" is not a mediocre movie. It's a solid comedy that, in its one-liner-heavy dialogue, reminds us of classic Woody Allen.
|'To Rome With Love'|
|3.5 out of 4 stars|
|Stars: Woody Allen, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Roberto Benigni|
|Director: Woody Allen|
|Rated: R (for some sexual references)|
|Running time: 102 minutes|
The film opens with a balletic traffic director telling us he sees it all in Rome, and will tell us a few tales. You actually don't get much of a sense of the great city in this film. Allen is not so much in love with Rome, one suspects, as with European financing that forces him to film on the continent, but otherwise gives him the sort of creative control he can no longer be guaranteed in blockbuster-centered America. The people and their (mostly psychological) problems are, as usual, the focus.
Jesse Eisenberg and Greta Gerwig are Jack and Sally, a young American couple studying in the city. Their contented life is thrown into disarray with the arrival of the kind of woman who brings disarray wherever she goes. The sexually attentive, culturally ambitious Monica (Ellen Page). Monica is one of Sally's good friends, but that doesn't keep her -- or Jack -- from betrayal.
More settled are two visitors to Rome, the parents of an American girl who got engaged on a trip to the city. Allen's character is supposed to be retired, but he thinks he's found his next opera star in his daughter's father-in-law-to-be, a humble man who runs a mortuary. This plot provides the most laughs, so I'll say no more.
Another of these unconnected stories is almost as good. Roberto Benigni is "an average Roman citizen of the middle class" who suddenly, inexplicably, becomes famous. It's a clever comment on our celebrity culture.
Allen makes his first appearance on-screen in one of his films in quite some time, but there are really three Woody Allen characters here -- the ones played by him and Jesse Eisenberg and the male half of an Italian newlywed couple who have just come to the city, and quickly fall prey to its decadence.
Allen has an eye for talent, and he's assembled an unusual collection of it here. It's nice to see Judy Davis, who was so great in his "Husbands and Wives," back, while Alec Baldwin is great as a Greek chorus of one.
"There's something attractive about a man sensitive to the agonies of existence," Monica says, in a clear ploy to attract Jack. Well, there's something attractive about a man sensitive to our agonies who's still so good at making fun of them.