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Review: TO ROME WITH LOVE (L.A. Film Festival '12)

I've never considered myself a fan of Woody Allen, which is likely a result of not having seen many of his early works. I respect Annie Hall much more than I like it, and that's embarrassingly the only pre-2000s film of his I've seen. But after watching and enjoying Match Point, Scoop, Cassandra's Dream, Vicky Cristina BarcelonaMidnight in Paris, and now To Rome With Love, I think I've slowly but surely become a Woody Allen fan. 

Allen uses Rome as the backdrop for his latest film and captures the city's beauty in the same way he did with Paris and Barcelona in previous endeavors. He returns in front of the camera this time, too, joining the great ensemble cast and playing another slight variation on the neurotic archetype he practically defined. As a writer/director, he's able to both show the audience his love for a city as well as tell them about it through his characters' dialogue, and he does both equally beautifully here. 

While the script is a bit more conventional than the somewhat genre-bending Midnight in Paris, I want to talk about my favorite part of this movie: Alec Baldwin's character. The marketing implies that Baldwin is Eisenberg's father, when in fact he's something much more interesting. For the majority of the film, he randomly pops in and out of scenes and operates as a physical representation of a conscience for Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, and Greta Gerwig's characters. It's unclear entirely when each one can see Baldwin, but at various points, he'll pop in and offer advice to different characters, acting as the voice of reason during their dramatic romantic adventures. Sometimes he'll interrupt conversations between them and offer asides that only one reacts to, and other times it's as if he's actually present with both of them in the room. Tough to explain, but it's a fascinating and surprising use of a character on Allen's part and Baldwin does a fantastic job. 

Among the various stories taking place in the city, including an amusing case of mistaken identity involving a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) posing as the wife in a newlywed Italian couple, perhaps the most interesting subplot is the one that centers around Roberto Benigni's character. He plays a normal, everyday guy who suddenly becomes a celebrity, and it's clear Allen enjoys poking fun at the media's coverage of every asinine detail in the life of a famous person. He also sets his sights on reality stars, scoffing at the ridiculous concept of being "famous for being famous." But what's so fascinating is Allen ultimately comes down on the side of accepting the notion of celebrity once it's been thrust upon you, and even explores the need for it once the cameras have moved onto their next target. 

Ostensibly a love letter to another foreign city, To Rome With Love is actually an exploration of the whimsy of fame and the desperation and desire it can cultivate. Tangled love stories have long been this filmmaker's calling card, and while all of those storylines are wrapped up without much fanfare (despite the use of infidelity that has become a scourge of modern movies), it's the atmosphere, the conversations, and yes, the artistry of Allen's films that truly captivate and leave a lasting impression. Until next time...

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