I’d never been a Woody Allen fan. Granted, I’d only seen Midnight in Paris, but I thought it was a self-indulgent piece of crap, even though a lot of people liked it. Maybe I was too harsh. Too cynical. Too immature. I’ll give him another shot, I thought. How bad could it be?
Recently, I saw To Rome with Love, which amounted to Allen taking four items that we’ll generously call “ideas” and piling them together into a feature film, linking them by locating all in the same foreign city (
Barcelona Paris Rome), and hoping the audience wouldn’t notice any difference in quality. And I, for one, certainly didn’t! Here are the four incredibly novel ideas that Allen was so grateful to share with us:
1. People want to be famous even though the paparazzi annoys famous people. (What a paradox!!!!)
2. Girls tell guys what they want to hear sometimes, and guys are stupid enough to fall for their tricks.
3. It’s easier to sing in the shower than to sing for an audience.
4. Sometimes prostitutes give useful advice? If both partners in a marriage cheat, then they’ll live happily ever after? People from small towns should never try to live in big cities because they’ll be overwhelmed immediately? (Not really sure what this plot was supposed to mean or show or symbolize. But it did allow Penelope Cruz to be in the movie, so… *shrugs* )
Who knew? These are some life-changing lessons that Mr. Allen is providing. These are the types of lessons you could, say, base a romantic comedy around and not worry about whether the film was even remotely romantic or funny–because the lessons are so interesting. This movie has absolutely revolutionized the way I regard shower-singing and prostitutes.
Now, if you’re worried that maybe Woody’s trademark subtlety and artsy crap would make this movie frustrating to understand, relax! In fact, each of these three sections are treated in an incredibly heavy-handed and overt manner that would rival an episode of Blue’s Clues. (Again, no clue what that fourth section was about. But it was still far and away the best part of the movie.) There’s no room for that silly misinterpretation when Alec Baldwin is deciphering all the significant dialogue for you, or when hordes of cameramen accost random individuals to make them “famous,” or when Pagliacci is staged entirely with the lead singer located in a shower stall. Don’t worry about the logistics of it–the high-larious set-up of that scene alone is worth the price of admission.
Oh, I almost forgot! The crowning moments of this movie come whenever Mr. Allen vacates his cozy director’s chair behind the camera and steps in front of it. Playing a new character for him–a socially awkward, neurotic American who struggles to mesh with his daughter’s Italian in-laws–he absolutely lights up the screen. The man certainly hasn’t lost his acting chops. His classic discomfort during airplane turbulence–turbulence! another juicy plot point that is ripe for picking–is only rivaled by his general disregard for Italian customs throughout the film. If Rickey Henderson was born to steal bases, then Woody Allen was born to steal scenes.
So, to summarize, To Rome With Love is an absolute classic. If there’s one thing it isn’t, however, it’s an excuse for Allen to take a vacation to one of the most beautiful cities in the world with some of his favorite pals from Hollywood and “work” while being paid by distributors from Rome to film explicitly in Rome. That would be irresponsible and embarrassing, and it certainly isn’t the case here. You should be ashamed for even thinking that.
If you like movies, you owe it to yourself to see this film. And if you happen to like movies, and you’re white and elderly, just order the DVD right now and make some space for it in your Woody Allen collection.
Post-script: In his next film, Woody Allen will reportedly play a Hollywood screenwriter who travels to Australia with his stepdaughter, who’s also his wife, and they spend four weeks scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef. And he will encounter a dingo or something.