Woody Allen’s latest film, “To Rome With Love,” doesn’t evoke as many laughs as last year’s “Midnight in Paris,” but it’s still an entertaining, if fleeting, piece. As the title suggests, the film takes place in Rome, telling several unconnected stories of both Italians and rich Americans in the capital. The common theme across the stories is the perplexing nature of celebrity and idolatry–and what better place to do this than in the town that gave us the term “paparazzi,” from Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita”?
After hearing his brother-in-law singing in the shower, Jerry (Woody Allen), a retired opera director, thinks he’s found the next operatic genius. The trouble is, he can only sing well in the shower. The solution: put a shower on stage and have the man sing while bathing to maintain the integrity of his voice. In another storyline, Allen satirizes celebrity when Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), an average, middle-class Roman, suddenly becomes famous because the media arbitrarily decides to make him so. He unexpectedly finds himself an icon, constantly surrounded by cameras and interrogated about the minutiae of his life–how he shaves, boxers or briefs and what he had for breakfast.
No Woody Allen film is complete without a bit of mockery of pseudo-intellectuals. A young man, Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), falls madly for flighty actress Monica (Ellen Page), who happens to be the best friend of his live-in girlfriend (Greta Gerwig). Monica knows just enough to fake that she knows more–as in, she knows exactly one line from every notable poet–which Jack sees through, yet he idolizes her nonetheless. He is coached along the way by his architectural mentor (Alec Baldwin), who seems to be a figment of his imagination much like Bogart was in “Play It Again, Sam.”
“To Rome With Love” is packed with outrageous ideas that are almost more humorous in the recounting than in the execution, yet are more likely to solicit a smile than a hearty laugh. But it gives you everything you would expect from a Woody Allen film, including a cast that has adopted Allen’s speech patterns–something John Cusack once said was inevitable when working with the director. This places the film in approximately the same league as Allen’s “Zelig” or “Love and Death”: a perfectly amusing way to spend an afternoon but nowhere near a masterpiece like “Annie Hall” or even “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”