Directed and Written by Woody Allen
Starring, Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Judy Davis, Robert Benigni, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwin, Ellen Page

More than twenty years have passed since I saw a great Woody Allen film, and long ago I gave up expecting a movie like ANNIE HALL or CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS to come along again. Even MIDNIGHT IN PARIS in 2011 was not great Woody Allen, but it was much better than TO ROME WITH LOVE. If Allen wasn’t able to attract the cast above, I doubt this film would be drawing much of an audience. And possibly it would not even get made. Cleverly, Allen’s films now draw on actors from multiple ages and countries, ensuring an audience.

PLOT: There are four story lines in TO ROME WITH LOVE. None work very well for very long, and, in fact, they all seem like mediocre sketches for SNL. Robert Benigni is an Italian who, for no reason at all, suddenly becomes the toast of the town. This works for a scene or two and then peters out, but Allen doesn’t seem to recognize this. Allen himself plays a dyspeptic small-time opera producer who comes to Rome to meet his prospective in-laws and discovers the groom’s father can sing opera—but only under certain circumstances. Again a good premise that is never developed beyond his initial idea. Jesse Eisenberg, coached by Alec Baldwin in the best-played role, finds his girlfriend’s friend far more interesting than his girlfriend until she loses interest in the seduction. The fourth story is too complex to sum up in a line or two, but trust me you don’t need to hear it.

To be honest, the audience seemed to like this film a lot more than I did. It is comfortable and predictable, and a rest from the relentless blockbusters of summer. But for me, it seemed overly familiar, a retread of early ideas stretched to the snapping point. More and more, every character in Allen’s films seems to read their lines as if were Allen saying them—so we have a set full of Woody Wannabes. Only actors of the maturity of Davis and Baldwin seem able to maintain distinctive personalities.

This is not a horrible film, but it is certainly not a very good one. If Allen’s films were divided into fifths, I would put TO ROME WITH LOVE in the next to last.

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