Friday, July 6, 2012

To Rome With Love (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

To Rome with Love

We all sensed this coming---the next European Idyll from the legendary Woody Allen whose last outing, the ubiquitous "Midnight in Paris" was such a beloved hit that it's nearly impossible to top. And there is no replicating that special mix of philosophy, endearing neuroses and madcap fantasy. It's like Nature.  Allen is giving his virtuoso director's hand at storytelling in its most organic form, and like magic, the art of narrative film is volatile and impossible to predict. What looks terrific on paper is sometimes not and vice versa.

Here we have "To Rome with Love" which seems uncannily like "Love American Style", the Tv series from the 70s. Here is the seemingly copyrighted, all too familiar yaketty-yaketty-yak characters which seem to create Woody Allen's nostalgic version of an anguished "Sesame Street"  (it makes no difference whether it's Manhattan, Paris, Rome or outer space, the vexations are universal) and all the characters converse and fret, but mostly converse. 
"To Rome with Love" isn't a bad film, it's just that we've been down this lusty worrying and talky corner so many times that my verbal Vespa  gets a little flat along The Woodman's corduroy road. 

There are the usual upper middle class quirks, who,for the most part, scatter every which way wandering and wondering needlessly about who they should sleep with.

There is a young American girl (Allison Pill) who falls in love with a young Roman Socialist Michelangelo  (Flavio Parenti) to the dismay of her dad Jerry (Woody Allen) and his jagged and jittery wife (you guessed it, Judy Davis). Alberto Benigni and Alec Baldwin are thrown into the mix, but they don't do all that much. Benigni is a Kafkaesque Everyman who suddenly wakes up famous. And Alec Baldwin plays the kind of "invisible" offstage role that Jerry Lacy played as Bogart in "Play It Again, Sam" (1972). Baldwin does his best here and manages a few good lines. I only wish they were better.

 Greta Gerwig has a good outing as Sally, another hectic young American student trying to hold onto the nervous Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) a Woodily-crafted character if there ever was one. And if that isn't enough, here comes Penelope Cruz as Anna (star of Vicki Cristina Barcelona) looking like a hot red flame, although by the time she appears there is too much pepper in this pot.

There is some enjoyable garnish in this latest antipasti of angst,most notably offered by the famous tenor Fabio Armilato as Michelangelo's dad who can only sing well in the shower. And also, still crazy after all these years, yes,  there is Woody Allen himself, who is just about the only force bringing genuine belly laughs to the table, even though we know what's in store. Allen's deadpan stares are priceless. A thing neurotic is a joy forever.

That being said, I found Monica's bohemian chattering as delivered by Ellen Page, grating. Not a thing she said was all that enlightening or funny. Her speeches seemed as they could have been given years ago in "Manhattan" or "Annie Hall". All this back and forth about sex or no sex proves a bit wearing on the professorial patches. Alas, it is Woody Allen like it or not. Here it proves a toss up.

Some well deserved relief from all this nuero-sensical nincompoopery, can be found in the city of Rome herself. The cinematography by Darius Khondji who worked on "Midnight in Paris" is stunning and vivacious. The very cobblestone streets crack into sorrisi---Italian smiles.
Die-hard Woody Allen fans will smirk as   if seeing an old friend, and that is precisely what you get here. All's well that ends well. At the end of the film, a man in the window (Francesco De Vito) reaffirms that everyone has a story. But why the same ones? Va bene. I know that Woody must have something more in his urban bestiary yet.

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