Film review: To Rome with Love

SARAH WATT
Last updated 05:00 16/12/2012
To Rome with Love

TO ROME WITH LOVE: Judy Davis and Woody Allen.

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To Rome with Love M, 112 mins 

Woody is back! Again! Though when this was exclaimed in delight a year ago, it heralded a return to what was widely considered his best form, with the Oscar-winning charmer Midnight in Paris.

To Rome with Love demonstrates a reversion to pre-Midnight days for the 77-year-old director, though this isn't entirely a bad thing. As in Matchpoint and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, he shoots the city like a tourist promo, eschewing litter-strewn cobbled streets and overpriced, undercooked pizza for sun-drenched courtyards and helpful local folk. We know we are in Allen's fantasy world, and we might as well enjoy it.

Having stayed behind the camera in Midnight, here Allen writes a "Woody" character into each of the four storylines, and steps in to play the neurotic New York father of Alison Pill's madly-in-love American, recently betrothed to a Roman lad. Her parents jet over to stay in a posh hotel in the eternal city (Allen's version of the American tourist never seems to be disadvantaged by the strong Euro) and meet their son-in-law's family.

Meanwhile, across town three other story threads are being strung out - Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) gets advice from Alec Baldwin on how or whether to cheat on his girlfriend; Roberto Benigni's businessman finds himself thrown into an unexpected bout of celebrity for no apparent reason; and a naive young Italian couple find their newly married bliss threatened by the wiles of a local callgirl (a characteristically glamorous Penelope Cruz).

Allen seems to have a preoccupation with adultery, whether in the imagining, the temptation or the action. His cavalier attitude on all counts makes it a bit hard to empathise with any of the characters, as even those jilted fail to tug our heart strings (being negatively affected by such things does not gel with Allen's worldview).

The script is typically stagey, but once you settle into the overly clever, self-reflexive dialogue, some of the ideas are genius. The notion that a talented singer performs best in the shower is a wonderful conceit that made me laugh with delight, although, like Benigni's 15 minutes of fame, the joke is played a little too long.

The casting is similarly uneven - Juno's Ellen Page has come of age and is superb, Eisenberg and Baldwin get all the best lines (though largely play themselves); but "lovers" Pill and Parenti lack chemistry, and the Italian couple seem like they're in another movie entirely. As with most of his films, Allen concocts a degustation of witty ideas (there is a good running gag on the futility of trying to follow Italian directions) while the characters make direct meta-references to their script. For the most part it's a barrel of laughs, but after a while you feel you've gorged quite long enough.

To Rome with Love opens December 26.

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