TEMPTATION: Page and Eisenberg
IN A NUTSHELL
What is it? A bunch of attractive people walking around attractive locations, sort of held together with the barely coherent ramblings of an oversexed geezer.
Should I see it? If you’re a masochistic Woody Allen completist, if you want to see Europe without travelling, or if you are a dirty old man who doesn’t actually need to see sex or nudity, yes.[/box]
I can’t be the only person who, despite having been a pretty huge fan back in the day, gave up completely on Woody Allen after the atrocity of Celebrity, only to be reluctantly roped back in around Match Point or so, when critics and fans alike declared that he was back in form. There’s a funny thing about Allen, and I don’t mean his jokes: rather uniquely among artists in any medium, he gets a free pass from certain critics, like some kind of spoiled, entitled child, just for creating work that’s not terrible.
Once again, he’s back with another not-terrible film. The latest in his European travelogue series, To Rome With Love is loose even by Allen’s ever-diminishing standards: four unrelated stories set in the Italian capital. Jesse Eisenberg is a young architect living with girlfriend Greta Gerwig and tempted by her friend Ellen Page (with Alec Baldwin acting as some kind of weird semi-imaginary personified conscience, urging Eisenberg not to make the same mistakes he did as a young man).
Allen himself appears, for the first time in a while but unsurprisingly doing his usual schtick, as a retired opera director with a psychiatrist wife (Judy Davis) and a young daughter (Alison Pill) who’s engaged to an Italian leftist (Flavio Parenti). The fiancé’s father (Fabio Armiliato) is a brilliant opera singer, but only in the shower. This leads Allen to conceive of a nutty scheme that causes conflict among the families.
Meanwhile, charming young Italians Allesandra Mastronardi and Allesandro Tiberi are a recently married couple visiting from the provinces, whose day-long separation leads to a dual sex farce, his involving a hooker (Penélope Cruz) and hers with a famous film actor (Antonio Albanese). And in the film’s weakest segment, Roberto Benigni plays against type as a boring everyman who mysteriously becomes a celebrity for no reason.
All the bad elements of Allen’s work are present in To Rome With Love: the corny, dated humour; the vapid social commentary that seems more and more like geriatric grumbling; the hopelessly retrograde sexual politics, with sex-starved women falling all over themselves to sleep with narcissistic, neurotic men; above all, the rushed, lazy feeling that results from his “quantity over quality” method of churning out hastily written and directed films year after year after year.
And yet there’s something compulsively watchable about his films. The casting is almost always great; here, youngsters Eisenberg, Page and Gerwig stand out with their nervy energy. That same corny humour can occasionally be endearing, like your dad’s jokes. And yes, the images of Rome are quite nice. If this were the work of a first-time director, it would seem like a flawed but promising work. But at this point, the promise of him doing greater things is pretty dicey.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan, it’s not so bad that it needs to be avoided. But otherwise, it’s certainly not one of his must-sees. If you need a Woody fix, Annie Hall still holds up. ■
TO ROME WITH LOVE OPENS FRIDAY, JULY 20