It’s been opined over and over that Woody Allen’s late career resurgence can be traced to his arrival in Europe. Starting with Match Point, the guy has churned out one winner after another. Even Scoop and Cassandra’s Dream—referred to in polite company as “dog shit”—have their merits.
Now comes To Rome with Love. It’s all over the place, wavering back and forth from romantic fantasy, social satire and silly comedy. It even uses a traffic cop to introduce us to the main characters—part of that silly charm. And Allen lets cinematographer Darius Khondji’s camera stroll adoringly through Rome’s streets, just as the characters do.
The first character we see strolling is Hayley (Alison Pill), who’s willfully lost and asks a local, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), for directions. Within moments they’re engaged. That brings her parents, retired opera director Jerry (Woody Allen) and psychiatrist Phyllis (Judy Davis), to town.
And that ain’t the half of it. A second storyline features Alec Baldwin as John, a well-to-do architect, returning to Rome many years after having his heart broken there. He runs into Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), a younger version of himself and the two of them live (or relive) what happened years earlier—though John may actually be watching his past unfold. Ellen Page plays the heartbreaker, Monica, and Greta Gerwig is Jack’s doting girlfriend, Sally.
It’s a goofy storyline (really, all them are goofy) and watching John try to advise the younger Jack, who insists on making the same mistakes his older self made, is hilarious. John tries to dissuade Jack and Monica by busting in on their private moments, but the pair ignores him or tells him to butt out and argues with him over the meta-ness of it all.
Page hasn’t played a heartbreaker-type before and Gerwig probably could have been more believable. But Page has a charm and sweetness that makes her character seem like she’s really not trying to break up her best friend’s relationship, and Jack, a lovable dip, is all too willing to play along.
And there’s more! (Seriously.) Roberto Begnini is an office worker who randomly becomes famous, even being whisked away to a news studio for an interview about what he had for breakfast. The newsroom scene serves as a reminder of Begnini’s talents as a comic actor; he’s not just the dope who stands on seatbacks at the Oscars. There’s also Penelope Cruz in an absurdly short red dress, a lost country schoolteacher and her naïve husband who’s in town for a job interview.
It all ends well, even if some of the storylines don’t cross and some of them don’t make much sense. Plus, Allen does what only he can, which is spin something so absurd that it can’t be believed into comic gold. Here, it involves opera, his character’s future in-laws and singing in the shower. It sounds preposterous, and it is. But what is Rome good for to a visiting American if not a little fantasy?