To Rome with Love finds Woody Allen doing what he does best, confounding audiences with comedy even while turning the tables upside down. TRwL mixes a quartet of stories set in Rome, with a different cast for each tale. We visit all the hot spots of the Eternal City with the action set in motion by a traffic cop. Is he the narrator who also guides the motives of the characters or merely another device that Allen uses to distract us from reality?
Allen’s previous film, which was also set in a European city, took leaps between fantasy and logic. Midnight in Paris was one of Allen’s most successful ever, also winning his script an Oscar. To Rome with Love uses fantasy in the sense that in each one of the separate stories one of the characters is a fantasy. Or at least act in a fantastical manner. The deception is uniform for each story: Robert Benigni has two selves, one of whom imagines himself famous for being famous; an American architecture student (Jesse Eisenberg) imagines his hero (Alec Baldwin as a famous architect) giving him pointers while trying to seduce his girlfriend’s (Greta Gerwig) friend (Ellen Page); an Italian couple visit Rome to meet relatives only when the wife gets lost while shopping the husband hesitantly welcomes a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) who shows up at his room at his total beck and call; an American girl (Alison Pill) can’t wait for her parents (Allen, Judy Davis) to fly over and meet her fiancé, yet when they get there her Dad wants to stage an opera with her future father-in-law because Allen thinks the man is a natural singer.
All these plot points may exist in only my own imagination. Try as hard as I might I could not figure out To Rome with Love while watching it and the film refused to leave my mind after seeing it. Perhaps a couple of hours later I came up with an eureka moment.
Of course my theory of imaginary characters can be like parallel universes in that you change the identity of the imaginary person and all the pieces of the puzzle still fit together. For instance, make Baldwin the only real character that remembers two girlfriends from when he himself was a student in Rome and thing take on a new albeit similar meaning. It’s the theatre of magic realism a la Woody.
The soundtrack bristles with operatic moments during the Allen starring sequences. Scenes like this easily segue way into an upbeat pop instrumental sound that propels subsequent scenes and would seem totally in place in Euro themed comedies from another era.
– Michael Bergeron