Movie Review: To Rome With Love
The Charlotte Observer
Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love” began with better titles. Yet despite the exquisite locations of the filmmaker’s first story of love Italian style, this bland ensemble romance deserves the generic name rather than the clever working titles it started with.
Allen called it “Bop Decameron,” then changed it to “Nero Fiddled” before he and his distributor decided to slip in the name of the Eternal City.
Hey, it helped to have the City of Light mentioned in the title of last year’s Allen hit “Midnight in Paris.” So putting Rome in the name makes good marketing sense to hint that his latest continues the trend of light romance in a beautiful Old World capital.
Unfortunately, “To Rome with Love” lives up – or rather, lives down – to the superficial postcard sentiment of its title.
Weaving four stories of Italians and American visitors, the writer-director creates a lot of clever moments with this ensemble comedy, which features Allen’s first on-screen appearance since 2006’s “Scoop.” In between the good times, the story and characters just drift about awkwardly, stuck on a walking tour of Rome that continually bumps up against dead ends, or worse, circles back so we wind up seeing the same things a few times too many.
It’s hard to even pick out a highlight among the four stories. Parts of each story work quite well, while other portions just weigh the scenarios down.
The film almost comes down to how well the actors inhabit their roles. There are no Oscar prospects here, but Alec Baldwin conveys a sense of wistful nostalgia as an architect seemingly strolling into his own memories of Italy in his youth.
Allen co-stars as retired music producer Jerry, who comes to Rome with his wife, Phyllis (Allen veteran Judy Davis) to meet the Italian fiance of their daughter, Hayley (“Midnight in Paris” co-star Alison Pill).
The time away from the screen hasn’t helped Allen’s acting chops. He’s curiously listless as Jerry, and Davis, who was razor-sharp in Allen’s “Husbands and Wives,” rarely rises above dreary hen-pecking.
The ineffable magic that made “Midnight in Paris” click eludes Allen here. When in Paris, Allen’s gimmicks coalesced into a sly, engaging romantic fantasy.
When in Rome, though, it’s not Nero who’s fiddling, but Allen, bopping and dithering around the city like a tourist so desperate to cram in all the sights that he comes away only with a few crisp highlights and a lot of out-of-focus snapshots.