To Rome With Love begins with a traffic cop (Pierluigi Marchionne) welcoming the audience to the capital of Italy. From there the movie unfolds in characteristic Woody Allen colors, sounds, dialogues, and plot developments, all with an eager theatricality that presupposes someone will burst out in song in the next moment (but almost no one does), and spit out jokes that are both predictable and satisfying. This time Allen tries to please his younger audience with a hip cast and his mature fans with nods here and there to his past works. Whether he succeeds is a matter of taste.
The plot revolves around four stories. Jerry (Allen), a retiree who worked in opera and equates retirement with death, comes to Italy with his wife (Judy Davis) to see his daughter (Alison Pill), about to marry fiancé Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). The father of the groom Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) turns out to have an amazing voice, which occupies Jerry for a while, with a few mildly enjoyable comic developments (recording artists and performers everywhere will enjoy a few scenes here).
Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) is an architecture student living in Rome with his unkempt girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig), who stupidly wears crumpled boy’s clothes and invites an obnoxiously fake friend Monica (Ellen Page) to live with them. Renowned architect John/older version of Jack (Alec Baldwin) is a magical-realist character occasionally appearing to preach to the young man about the dangers of falling for conning wannabe actresses for whom each life development is a chance to practice their ‘craft’. Baldwin is great in the part, bringing To Rome With Love closer to the amazing Midnight in Paris.
Antonio and Milly (Alessandro Tiberian and Alessandra Mastronardi) are a happy newly married couple in Rome to meet the wife’s family. But everything goes wrong, and they end up with other people: she with a movie star (Antonio Albanese) and he with a hooker (Penelope Cruz), intended as a present for someone else. His new in-laws find Antonio and Cruz’s character in bed together, she tries to pass herself off as his wife, and if this part isn’t fun enough for the viewer, at least they can enjoy her impressive curves and irresistible, effortless sexuality.
The last plot line concerns a dude who becomes the target of paparazzi overnight (Roberto Benigni), resents his fame, loses fame as suddenly as he acquires it, only to miss it painfully and chase innocent passersby in the street to offer them an autograph. (The last two stories are recounted in Italian, for which subtitles are provided.)
The Sony Pictures Classics’ Blu-ray of To Rome With Love is a high quality encoding of the film. Rome looks great in every frame, with its magnificent buildings and clothing drying on the line casually, and the soundtrack of Italian standards sounds jolly, warm and inviting (most of the people in this movie are on vocation).
“Con Amore: A Passion for Rome” is a featurette that includes sequences about the influence of Fellini’s work on Allen, and the impact Rome’s architecture and views had on the director. Interviews with the main cast from the premiere of To Rome With Love are included here as well. Overall, this is a step in the new direction for Allen who is notorious for opposing special features as he believes they take away from the experiencing the movie per se. This is great for everyone who loves movies, because Allen has been making a movie a year for more than 40 years now (with a few exceptions) – and even his failures are worth the attention of all cinema lovers.
Verdict: If you are not a diehard fan of Woody Allen, rent Instant Video and skip the Blu-ray. To Rome With Love is an OK movie (if you like Allen in general) but in this economy it is really not something you should invest into. IMHO.