Wednesday 26 September 2012


(Woody Allen, 2012) Woody Allen still makes "good" films. To Rome With Love, for instance, is consistently engaging, thematically interesting, occasionally hilarious, nicely acted, and shot by Darius Khondji with a fine feel for the beauty of the Eternal City in the waning evenings of a late summer. The problem is that Woody Allen once made unequivocally great films. Films that fairly throbbed with inspiration and ideas, films that were formally adventurous but always accessible, films that were moving and intriguing yet generally brilliantly funny. And, much though I realise it is poor form to criticise a film for what it is not rather than what it actually is, this is an unavoidable consideration whenever one addresses this particular writer-director's latest work. To Rome With Love is another in Allen's recent European series. Here he takes Rome as his setting, shuffling between a number of different stories: Allen himself and Judy Davis visiting their daughter, engaged to a handsome Roman lawyer, whose father is a gifted Opera singer, but only in the shower; Alec Baldwin, reminiscing about a summer in his youth when he (incarnated in the form of Jesse Eisenberg) falls for his girlfriend's pretentious friend (Ellen Page). There are also two Italian-language strands: a young couple honeymooning in the city become accidentally separated and embark on their own sexual journeys, and Roberto Benigni plays a clerk who becomes hugely famous overnight for no reason. That synopsis suggests the difference between the Woody Allen of today and the Woody Allen of the 1970s and 80s - a couple of the big comic ideas in To Rome With Love would have been tossed off in his older films, but here they are given far too much time and space for their slightness to sustain, and they seem thin and annoyingly shrill as a result. As ever with Allen, performances make up for that to some extent, and here Benigni and Penelope Cruz (as a typically caricatured/idealised Allen version of a prostitute) are entertainingly broad, while the Baldwin/Eisenberg strand holds perhaps the best mix of comedy and drama of any in the film, and is charmingly played by all involved. But mix is a problem here - these stories don't hold together well, and indeed, they don't play off one another at all, throwing off few unexpected resonances or contrasts, instead feeling somewhat randomly shuffled. The humour lurches from extraordinarily heavy satire - especially in the Benigni section - to some sparkling one liners, via a bit of decent character comedy, and even some broad farce which plays like much popular Italian tv, but its never light enough or quite snappy enough to work the way it could, for all the reliable qualities that Allen ensures in his cinema.

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