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Note: * indicates spoilers
Let’s make no bones about it: To Rome With Love is almost entirely about Woody Allen’s life.
The film is shot as a series of semi-intertwining vignettes that are set in the aptly titled Rome-antic city of Rome. Although there is a lot of overlap within each of the different stories, in my mind there are a total of four different vignettes within the entirety of To Rome With Love, and each one represents a comment on a different theme. I thought three of these were executed beautifully, and one was sub par at best.
Let’s start with the good. The vignette consisting of Anna (Penelope Cruz), Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi), and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) was an absolute delight to watch. The chemistry between Cruz and Tiberi was fantastic, and Cruz epitomized a sex symbol while simultaneously bringing levity to the film. She was amazing. Milly’s journey and Antonio’s journey essentially mirrored each other, and this vignette, more than any of the others, represented a legitimate success: both partners had to look outside the relationship to fulfill what they were looking for, only then they could they realize how much they meant to each other.
My favorite scenes in the whole movie no-doubt were within the presence of John (Alec Baldwin), Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), Monica (Ellen Page), and Sally (Greta Gerwig). This one is quite obviously a tale of lust battling logic, and the extreme detail and comedy of these scenes made it very relatable.* I also want to add that the acting performances by Baldwin, Eisenberg, and Page were all outstanding in this portion.
*The fact that Baldwin plays the role of ‘sub conscious’ (or the trio of Eisenberg, Page, and Gerwig play his memory, it doesn’t really matter) without overtly saying the events weren’t real is what made this portion of the movie. Eisenberg’s internal battle of logic vs lust is a ubiquitous battle throughout all of humankind, and Woody Allen did an amazing job writing the transition between Eisenberg seeing Page’s continual bullshit to him being consciously aware that it was B.S. and not caring. The writing during this portion was particularly exceptional; from the mention of Russian authors to Kierkegaard quotes to reciting one line of a poem, Woody Allen fully captured what it meant to be a pseudo-intellectual with Monica. I’m guessing he was drawing on some kind of experience from being in Hollywood so long…
The tale of Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) was simply the story of fame, both the good and the bad of it. Leopoldo’s scenes were some of the funniest in the movie, and this story felt very personal to Woody Allen. He obviously felt the same way as Leopoldo at first: why do people give a shit about what I do? Then he progressed into enjoying the benefits of fame, and eventually getting fed up with it like all celebrities must. Finally, in the end like most celebrities, he missed the fame once it was gone. While a simple story, and obviously not a very relatable one for most, I found it very charming and it was an interesting comment on the absurdity of celebrity.
Alright, let’s get to the bad. I did not enjoy the story of Jerry (Woody Allen) Phyllis (Judy Davis), Hayley (Alison Pill), and Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). This vignette, in my opinion, was about the fear of retiring and, in turn, the fear of death. This one was obviously the most personal to Woody Allen, as he’s at the stage of his career (and life) where he is near retirement, but I didn’t find it charming nor did I find it uplifting. Even though the story turns out well, and there were some comedic moments in this section, I just found all of the characters in this area of the film a waste of time. Woody Allen’s Jerry was a caricature of an actual person (although that could be said of a lot of the characters in this movie), and I didn’t think Pill and Parenti had any chemistry together, each moment feeling like a grind between them.
Overall, I completely understand why critics and many fans didn’t like this movie: it doesn’t flow together very well, it is hyper-intellectual, and it’s not uniformly funny or interesting. However, if you take the movie for what it is: a charming, beautifully-shot, funny, smart, lesson-teaching film about the mistakes and regrets in life to go along with the good and serendipitous things in life told by a reminiscing man, I believe it is worth watching for almost everyone. I loved To Rome With Love, and to me it was as good as Allen’s Midnight in Paris.