By Sophia Whitfield
To Rome with Love follows four storylines in Italy, two American and two Italian. Some of the characters are residents and some visitors; Allen follows their adventures in the Eternal City.
Jerry (Woody Allen) and his psychologist wife Phyllis (played by Judy Davis) are on their way to Rome to meet their daughter who has recently become engaged to Italian lawyer Michelangelo. The neurotic father of the bride has neurosis and angst that put Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good As It Gets to shame. He is struggling with retirement having been passionate about his work as an avant-garde director in the theatre; he is most famous or infamous for a production of Tosca in which all the singers dressed as white mice.
Jerry, harbouring a deep desire to not be in retirement, becomes enamoured with the father of his daughter’s fiancé, (played by the Genovese tenor Fabio Armiliato), after hearing him sing opera in the shower. Certain that he can make him a star Jerry proceeds to arrange auditions, but realising that he can only sing well in the shower, not when put upon by encouraging agents, Jerry organises for a shower to be present at all auditions and performances.
Meanwhile, across town, John (played by Alec Baldwin), a successful American architect, plays the part of unseen adviser to a young aspiring architect. As John revisits the streets of his student days, he is keen to advise Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) on the difference between lust and love as John grapples with uncertainty. He has to choose between the steady reliable love of his current girlfriend and the more volatile and perhaps fleeting nature of lust with her best friend.
The two Italian stories are the highlight. Roberto Benigni plays Leopold Pisanello, an ordinary Italian family man who suddenly becomes famous for no reason. It is here that Allen is most successful with his satire on celebrity. Leopold initially struggles with this new life, enjoying the entrapments of fame. As swiftly as it is bestowed on him, it is taken away and another unsuspecting local becomes the focus of media attention. Allen highlights the ridiculous nature of this new kind of celebrity where the most mundane ordinary life is played out on national television.
The second Italian couple are a young, recently married couple honeymooning in Rome. They are both innocent country people who have come to the big city to make something of themselves. Antonio and Milly are thrown apart almost on arrival in Rome. Milly gets lost heading to the hairdresser and finds herself watching a movie filmed on the streets of Rome and Antonio is mistaken for someone else by Anna, a beautiful call girl, played with aplomb by Penelope Cruz). Both Antonio and Milly end up losing some of their innocence on their first night in Rome and not to each other.
The stories are all told over different timelines, some over a few hours whilst others are over days or even weeks. Somehow this disparate technique works and the film is engaging. I enjoyed it immensely.
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