Monday, July 2, 2012

To Rome with Love [2012]

MPAA (R)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1859650/
Roger Ebert's review -
http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120627/REVIEWS/120629976

To Rome with Love (written and directed by Woody Allen) continues a series of movies by the film maker set in Europe including Match Point [2005] (London), Scoop [2006] (London), Vicky Cristina Barcelona [2008], Midnight in Parish [2011] and now this one in Rome.

In the United States, Allen's personal failings have caused him damage.  But I remember that even during my seminary days in the mid-1990s, which I spent largely in Rome, he remained positively adored in Europe and perhaps especially in Italy where he's been a fixture at the annual Venice International Film Festival each summer.  As such, his recent "European films" often portray Americans quite badly while waxing almost lyrically about the beauty, sophistication and, often enough, kindness of Europeans.  Perhaps having received enough criticism for his recent portrayals of Americans, To Rome with Love is much softer in this regard.  Indeed, the only "ugly American" in this film is arguably played by Allen himself.

To Rome with Love is structured around four stories which never really intersect but occur concurrently in the city of Rome.

In the first story, an American student, Heyley (played by Allison Pill), lost in Rome gets help from a handsome young Italian lawyer Michelangelo (played by Flavio Parenti [ENG] [IMDb]).  They fall in love and Heyley's parents, Jerry (played by Woody Allen) and Phillis (played by Judy Davis) fly to Rome to meet Michelangelo and his parents. Jerry a recently retired (and not altogether happy about it) classical music stage manager from New York, notices that Michelangelo's father, Giancarlo (played by Fabio Armitiliano [ENG][IMDb]) a humble mortician has a seemingly operatic voice "to die for."  Jerry then can't help himself as he tries to persuade Giancarlo who had never sung professionally to "at least try give it a shot" while the rest of both families try to persuade Jerry to leave it alone.  Much ensues ...

In the second story, John (played by Alec Baldwin) a financially successful but somewhat unfulfilled American architect (he made his fortune and fame designing shopping malls...), who had "back in the day" studied in Rome, takes a walk down "memory lane" during what had been a routine business visit to Rome and runs into Jack (played by Jesse Eisenberg) currently studying architecture and living in the same building and quite possibly the same apartment as John did so many years ago.  Invited up to Jack's apartment, he meets Jack's live-in girl-friend Sally (played by Greta Gerwig) also a student, as well as Sally's best friend Monica (played by Ellen Page) a struggling and all too "interesting" actress who had flown out to stay with them between acting gigs.  Happy as pie to have this opportunity to relive, even if vicariously, a part of his youth, John starts "hanging around" the younger Jack, serving as something of a mentor figure to him, even if Jack hardly ever listens ...

In the third story, a young Italian couple Antonio (played by Alessandro Tiberi [ENG][IMDb]) and Milly (played by Alessandra Mastronardi [ENG][IMDb]) come to Rome from the countryside after having been recently married.  They are to meet some fairly important relatives of Antonio's while they are there with the implication being that Antonio could perhaps get a very good job through one of them, if only they make a good impression.  So wanting to make a good impression with Antonio's relatives, Milly steps out looking for some sort of hairsalon or spa.  Not knowing Rome, she gets hopelessly lost.  Each time she asks for directions, it only gets worse ;-) Anyone who's ever been to Rome would understand.  In the center of the city, none of the streets go straight and the street names change with every street corner.  One of my own first impressions of the city when I first got there was thinking: "I'd hate to be a postman here" :-).  In the meantime, Anna (played by Penelope Cruz) a prostitute comes mistakenly to Antonio's (and Milly's ... but she's away, lost somewhere in Rome..) room telling him "Congratulations! I'm completely paid for and I'm here to fulfill all of your dreams!"  "Paid for by whom?" "Your friends."  "What friends?"  No matter, before they can resolve the matter Antonio's relatives barge in, and not knowing Milly assume that Anna, who when she came into the room had, of course, jumped straight onto the bed, was Milly.  One of the Aunts sniffs, thinking not particularly highly of who she thought Antonio had married.  But Antonio desperate to not ruin his meeting with these important (and apparently quite wealthy) relatives asks Anna to pretend that she's his wife.  Much ensues ... (And don't worry, happy smiling Milly, has her own adventures on the streets of Rome as well as she runs into all kinds of Italian movie stars and so forth ... ;-)

The final story involves Leopoldo (played by Roberto Benigni [ENG][IMDb]) a humble accountant living a nice simple middle class life in Rome with his wife and kids suddenly for no reason at all becomes hounded by Paparazzi photographers and journalists as a celebrity.  Why?  He has no idea.  Much ensues ...

These are all fun and lovely stories to watch as they play out.  A theme throughout all these stories seems to be that of celebrity: What does it mean?  How do people earn it?  Is it worth it?  And so forth.   And I do think that Woody Allen gets it right:  Though Italy does has the reputation of being a celebrity/paparazzi crazed culture, most Italians are like the Giancarlos, Antonios/Millis and Leonardos of this film who even if special, very special or talented are content, indeed, very content to live their lives happily and _simply_ with their families.  What a lovely and often very funny film!


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