How wonderful it is to walk into a cinema in the middle of Summer, amidst all of the CG-Eye Candy that plagues the season, to see a Woody Allen movie. Last year it was the delightful Midnight in Paris. A few years ago I saw Whatever Works twice on the Fourth of July weekend. Today, in the middle of a brutal heat wave, I just got back from seeing Woody's joyous new movie, To Rome With Love.
As usual, many of the critics are being harsh on this movie. They tend to review the man, Woody Allen, and not the picture. Some of them make unkind statements about his age, which is sickening. Instead of honoring and bestowing respect upon a man who has survived for so long in an unpredictable industry, always making the exact movies he wishes to make, they mock him. Cretins. As Roger Ebert says in his review, it's bad manners.
And, of course, people still judge Woody from his personal life. As if it is anyone's business. Rarely do they get the facts straight, but always assume the moral high ground. I wonder why people aren't as judgmental about Jerry Lee Lewis, who married his 13-year-old cousin? Sure, the scandal derailed Jerry's career, but people were fairly quick to forgive and forget. I think it's because people are intimidated by Woody's intelligence and his refusal to bow to the conforms of society.
Anyway, Woody's new movie continues his tour of Europe. He has already done four movies in England, one in Paris and one in Barcelona. Woody Allen makes most of his movies abroad these days, because people out side the US are more open to artistic vision.
Woody has made many types of films. Some are dark, others are just plain odd. He loves to dabble in Fantasy. Some of his best, and most beloved, pictures feature funny, romantic stories. To Rome With Love belongs in the latter category.
As always Woody managed to ensnare a surprising cast for To Rome With Love. Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Allison Pill, PenÚlope Cruz, Judy Davis, Roberto Benigni, Greta Gerwig, and for the first time in a decade, Woody Allen appears in front of the camera.
Everyone in the movie is unsurprisingly excellent. Baldwin stands out in it, as does Eisenberg and Page. It's wonderful to see Woody cutting up again, and though it was a small part, I was impressed by Greta Gerwig.
To Rome With Love reminds me of the farcical, bawdy Italian comedies of the 1960's, from directors like Luigi Zampa, or even Fellini.
The movie deals with four stories that intertwine with one another. In one, Woody plays a retired opera director who meets his daughter's fiance's family. The father is a brilliant singer, but there is a catch: He can only perform well while in the shower. It's a tired idea, sort of like with Hollywood Ending and a blind director trying to make a movie, but Woody makes the story fun.
The best storyline deals with Alec Baldwin visiting The Eternal City, and replaying a fling he had there. He watches it happen while he coaches a young version of himself, played by Jesse Eisenberg.
In an obvious yet funny satire of reality TV stars and their inexplicable fame, Roberto Benigni is a rather droll clerk who suddenly finds himself to be a celebrity. The actor's trademark frantic delivery is well used in it.
A young couple are about to take a meeting with the wealthy members of a firm the man hopes to join, but they are separated and the man accidentally gets entwined with a prostitute, played by PenÚlope Cruz. Meanwhile the woman ends up on a date with an amorous Italian superstar.
It's all lightweight stuff, but as is the norm with Woody, the dialogue is all wonderful. The jokes are a little creaky, but that's part of the simple joy of To Rome With Love.
This is far from Woody's best picture, but it's fluffy and fun. A wonderful way to beat the miserable summer heat.