“To Rome with Love” is the kind of Woody Allen comedy that makes people who aren’t fans of Woody Allen comedies secure in their assessment, and makes the auteur’s fans grimace and say, “Well, OK, disregard that one. Have you seen ‘Annie Hall’??”
Allen’s first Roman production is a love letter to the Eternal City (which is beautifully photographed by Iranian cinematographer Darius Khondji), with additional affection shown for Federico Fellini by means of borrowing some of his plot devices. It has a merry tone, like “Midnight in Paris” did. But this frothy anthology of unconnected stories has none of that film’s buoyancy, instead burdened by limp, hoary jokes and a frustratingly meandering pace, as if assembled from random notes Allen has left for himself over the past few decades.
An American girl (Alison Pill) is engaged to an Italian dreamboat (Flavio Parenti) whose mortician father (Fabio Armiliato) is an amazing operatic tenor, but only when he’s singing in the shower. The girl’s retired dad (Woody Allen), visiting from the U.S. to meet his future in-laws, wants to make the man a star. In a parallel story, an ordinary middle-aged nobody (Roberto Benigni) is mystified when he is suddenly and inexplicably pursued by paparazzi and reporters who hang on his every boring word.
Then there is the architecture student (Jesse Eisenberg) who happens to meet a well-known architect (Alec Baldwin) who might be the older version of himself and who offers advice as the lad navigates a relationship with his staid girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) and her dynamic sexpot friend (Ellen Page). Finally, a timid newlywed (Alessandro Tiberi) temporarily misplaces his starstruck wife (Alessandra Mastronardi) and has to let visiting relatives think that a high-priced prostitute (Penelope Cruz) is the bride.
These vignettes don’t directly overlap — nor could they, since some take place over several weeks while others are confined to a day or so. They share a setting and some loose themes: the desire for fame, the urge to make something of oneself, the impulse to be romantically unfaithful. There is a running undercurrent of surrealism as whimsical things happen that would not happen in life. Allen is playing around here, having fun.
Well, at least someone is having a good time. Allen seems committed to a languid, casual pace, even when dealing with farcical situations — like the prostitute-posing-as-wife — that call for something more madcap. The gags are flat and familiar, like deleted scenes from previous Allen movies. Our introduction to the character Allen himself plays comes when the man is on an airplane kvetching about turbulence: the stereotypical neurotic whiner that you do when you do a Woody Allen impersonation. I admire a guy who’s 76 years old and still writes and directs a movie every year, but this sloppy thing feels phoned-in.
C- (1 hr., 42 min.; )