After the success of Midnight in Paris, could Woody Allen be trying to capture lightning in a bottle two summers in a row with To Rome with Love?
As he always does, Allen has assembled a stellar cast including a role for himself for the first time in years. To Rome with Love’s ensemble is led by Oscar winners Penelope Cruz and Roberto Benigni, alongside Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page, Judy Davis and Alison Pill.
Allen begins his Roman holiday by setting up his staple of multiple human relationship stories. There are the honeymooning Italian newlyweds and the high-priced call girl (Cruz) who permeates their world, plus the famed architect (Baldwin) who returns to relive his youth as imagined through the love triangle of Eisenberg, Gerwig and Page. Benigni's character awakes and finds himself the most famous man in Italy for no reason whatsoever. Then there’s Allen’s plotline: He is traveling to Rome (in classic Allen curmudgeonly fashion) with his wife (Davis) to visit his daughter (Pill) and to meet her Italian fiance and his family. His former opera promoter hears something that will rock his world. His daughter’s fiance has a father who sings like an angel... only in the shower. Allen sees an opportunity of a lifetime, despite the objections of all those involved. That facet of the film is by far its most charming and hilarious.
As is clear, this is no Midnight in Paris, nor should it be. The magic of that film was the combination of Owen Wilson’s performance and the romance for the Parisian landscape of another era filled with the arts’ richest inhabitants. To Rome with Love is a simple story, really. It has themes such as the price of fame, trying to amend regrets from the past and finding one’s truth while facing down what seems like your fate-forged path. These themes are in no way congruent throughout and that sets this film apart from Allen’s last (and highest grossing of his career). That fact does not lessen To Rome with Love -- it is simply a completely different movie.
Allen doesn’t spoon feed the audience where his characters are in the scope of the world he created. It is not clear whether certain aspects are fantasy or real and for that he assumes a deeper insight from his audience. But the problem arises that Allen, the screenwriter, does not give enough information to allow viewers to draw conclusions about those fantastical parts of his plot.
To Rome with Love is solid, but doesn’t blow away the audience. The problem is -- yes, I know I said not to compare -- Allen’s latest is no Midnight in Paris. But, when your bar has been so recently set so high, it’s hard not to at least possess high expectations given the artist’s previous success. That being said, To Rome with Love slightly misses the mark.