Woody Allen seems to have started a series of movies based on European cities with his latest film, “To Rome with Love.” After “Midnight in Paris” received rave reviews last year, hopes were high for this star-studded title to have the same quality of storytelling and deep underlying messages. Unfortunately, “To Rome with Love” turns out to be a cluster romp of disjointed plots and attempts at comedy.
“To Rome with Love” follows four separate plotlines. Aging John (Alec Baldwin, “Rock of Ages”) relives his past through architect student Jack (Jesse Eisenberg, “Free Samples”), who becomes infatuated with his stable girlfriend’s free spirited friend, Monica (Ellen Page, “Inception”). Woody Allen plays the father of recently engaged Hayley (Alison Pill, TV’s “The Newsroom”). Turns out her soon-to-be father-in-law has terrific singing skills that inspire Allen to come out of retirement as an opera director, only to come across an odd setback. Newlyweds Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi, “Immaturi – Il viaggio”) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi, “La chartreuse de Parme”) arrive in Rome for their honeymoon, only to be separated – in more than one way – by an odd sequence of events. Finally, ordinary office worker Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni, “La commedia di Amos Poe”) finds himself swarmed by paparazzi at all times asking about his morning routine and opinion on the weather.
None of the storylines touch on the other and all have very little in common. The overarching themes and messages of each are completely different and over the top. Leopoldo becoming famous ignores the context of today’s “famous for being famous” craze. The father-in-law singer plot has far too many characters only semi-expanded on before buildup to an unfulfilling ending. All stories told in “To Rome with Love” have the theme of chance encounters in the “eternal city,” but that’s it; the messages are too unrealistic and unrelatable to have profound meaning.
While it’s a bold choice to not have characters from other plots interact, Allen failed to keep each story equally important and interesting. Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg’s story could have been a successful movie all in its own with some fine tuning and a few more plot points, and it’s as if Allen spent most of his time on that one story and ignored the others. The separated couple lost in Rome story keeps attention with Pen?lope Cruz’s exposing dress, but is beyond ridiculous with coincidence-based events and glaring plot holes. Suddenly famous Leopoldo presents his plot’s message with unbelievable logic while all other characters act brainless. The film lacked the whimsy that would have made these odd plot twists work, but it has a thick air of seriousness that drags it down.
But the biggest problem of “To Rome with Love” is its writing. All attempts at comedy could have been ripped from a mediocre sitcom and left only a couple people in the audience laughing. The core arc of each plot is over the moon and borders on surreal at times. While it is obvious these are attempts to boggle the minds of viewers into laughing, they just come across as silly. The script bounces around storylines with no coherent flow, and it seems that Allen was thinking while he wrote it, “Well, the audiences are probably bored of these guys now, let’s flip back to … this story!” The entire film, therefore, converges into a mess of serious meaning poorly scribbled over with crayon. Nothing about the script of “To Rome with Love” feels refined, and it seems Allen wanted to focus on presenting Rome’s charming atmosphere.
“To Rome with Love” showcases parts of Rome that are rarely seen in film, while Allen uses familiar backdrops to pull in the audience’s attention. Stereotypical European movie music sets the tone of being a tourist and does a good job of keeping pace with the film’s plot jumps. It’s refreshing to see backstreets and residences that make up the majority of the city up close, and clever cinematography revives well-known destinations. But production quality can’t cover up the films massive flaws.
Stale, borderline nonsensical writing, shuffled characters and forgettable messages turn “To Rome with Love” into an experiment gone wrong. The film’s massive budget and respected writer/director never show in this sloppy work that seems to aim for the depth of “Midnight in Paris” and misses. While pretty to look at, only one plotline out of four being entertaining is a failing grade; “To Rome with Love” doesn’t to live up to the standard Allen set with his far superior previous films.