Sunday, July 15, 2012

To Rome With Love, or Lingering Alec Baldwin.

Midnight In Paris ruined everything.  I went to see To Rome with Love today and, believe it or not, there were other people in the theater.  It was terrifying.  Can you imagine sitting alongside fifty or so elderly couples who are actually laughing at the trailer for Hope Springs?  May you never experience such horror.  Thankfully, To Rome with Love should scare off the masses.  It's getting destroyed by critics, and it certainly won't win any Academy Awards.

But it was still enjoyable.  Well, three fourths of it was.  Most of the dialogue misses its mark, and the characters have little to no merit, but To Rome with Love offers just enough absurdity to keep itself going.

To Rome with Love is a collection of vignettes, which is nearly always a recipe for disaster.  The rule largely applies here; the multiple story lines prevent anything of worth from actually developing, and the only vignette seemingly designed as traditional Woody Allen is also the one that should have been cut.

Let's get the pathetic out of the way first.  Jesse Eisenberg plays a young architect who falls for his girlfriend's best friend, an out of work actress played by Ellen Page.  Eisenberg and Page spend their screen time reciting tired Allen dialogue revolving around literature and poetry, and Eisenberg inevitably chooses the pseudo-intellectual temptress over the reliable old flame.  Yawn.  The only thing remotely interesting about the whole affair is the inclusion of Alec Baldwin, who lingers in the background, periodically interjecting to warn Eisenberg of his folly.  At times, the other characters in the scene can see Baldwin, at others they seem to be completely unaware of his presence.  No point is made; no revelation comes to light.  The lingering Baldwin is an admirable tactic, but sloppy execution can ruin even the best of Baldwins.

The rest of the stories work much better together.  Woody Allen's charm as an actor wears a little thin at times, as his normal neurotic self seems out of touch with the rest of the film.  However, his character's latest artistic venture–a showering opera singer–makes the whole segment worthwhile.  The climax of this segment is the film's best moment; a grand, laugh-inducing spectacle.

The third segment is comprised largely of the same joke on repeat.  Thankfully, it's an amusing joke.  Roberto Benigni plays an average, middle class Italian who wakes up one morning to discover that he is the most famous celebrity in Italy.  Paparazzi and reporters wait outside his house, snapping photographs and asking questions about his every day life; swooning at tales of spilled coffee or a fresh shave.  The masses eventually find someone more interesting, and the only real disappointment comes from Benigni's overreaction.

The final scene is composed of a small town Italian couple, Antonio and Milly, in the big city.  Antonio is looking to impress his relatives in order to secure an upscale job.  The couple get separated and each is thrust into a unique romantic entanglement: Milly with a sexy, overweight and balding Italian actor, and Antonio with a misplaced prostitute, which is practically the definition of Penelope Cruz at this point.  This is definitely the best-written story in the film (It has a beginning, middle, and end, for heaven's sake!).  It's silly, lighthearted entertainment and sandwiched between Benigni and Allen, it fits right in.  Now if only I could erase Jesse Eisenberg from my mind.

If the high points amuse you as much as they did me, you'll walk out of the theater pleased.  To Rome with Love is certainly flawed–at times, massively–but I still prefer occasional bursts of brilliance to well-distributed mediocrity.  Let's just add this to the list of lesser Woody Allen, always remembering that lesser Woody Allen is still above average.


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