I think that I have seen 35 of the 46 feature-length movies written and directed by Woody Allen. There are several that I have loathed (September, Broadway Danny Rose, Zelig) and several that I have liked a lot (Purple Rose Over Cairo, Bullets Over Broadway, Interiors), leaving nearly 30 in which my reactions range for bored disdain to finding some pleasures.
I like the travelogue footage in his post-NYC movies, which started in England in 2005 with “Match Point” and obtained commercial success in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Midnight in Paris.” I find Owen Wilson even more insufferable than the Woodster himself and was puzzled by the hoopla over the latter. On the other hand, I like the work of Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Hall, and Antonio Gaudi, so VCB almost made it onto my liked list. (Scarlett Johansson provided the counterweight for me.)
I like the images of the Victor Emanuel Monumnent, the Trevi Fountain, the Colosesum, The Piazza de Popolo, the Villa d’Este, etc. in “To Rome with Love.” (It was shot by Iranian-born Darius Khondji, who also shot “Midnight in Paris” for Allen and “My Blueberry Nights” for Wong Kai-War.) But, as with “Another Woman,” a 1988 melodrama written and directed by Allen that I just saw (having forgotten I’d seen it), the script for To Rome with Love” seems to me very weak, not to mention scattered.
I enjoyed Cruz as a high-price hooker and Alec Baldwin as a censorious ghost (advising Jesse Eisenberg against falling for Ellen Page, a not especially convincing femme fatale, but a convincing enough narcissist). After his initial joke on an inbound plane about turbulence bothering him because he’s an atheist, Allen was tolerable as a retired impresario bent on getting a mortician who sings beautifully in the shower (Fabio Armiliato) onstage. The tenor is the father of a young communist lawyer (Flavio Parenti) to whom Allen’s (and Judy Davis’s) daughter (Alison Pill) is betrothed. I didn’t find them to be interesting characters, nor was I much interested in the engaged Italian couple of Allesandro Tiberi and Allesandra Mastronardi who separated by a chain of absuridites. Surprising myself, I found Roberto Benigni (whom I usually found intolerable) mildly amusing as a clerk who becomes a celebrity for no particular reason. The “Famous for being famous” point could have been made in less time. And Jesse Eisenberg is OK as the perplexed fiancé (Greta Gewig) tempted by the visit of his fiancée’s feckless friend (Page).
A lot of the stories don’t come together and there seem to me to be many setups for punchlines that never come. The movie begs the question of the simultaneity of the stories (it seems to me that some run weeks and others are over in a day).
There’s a brief making-of featurette, which is more than Allen usually allows and a trailer.
Though overly long and diffuse and often clichéd (not least the ending with a band playing “Volare” on the Spanish steps in a golden dusk), the movie is intermittently pleasant.