TO ROME WITH LOVE aka NERO FIDDLED aka THE BOP CAMERON (2012)
Running Time: 102 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Woody Allen
Language: English and Italian w/English subtitles
Distributor: Sony Classics
Cast: Woody Allen, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page, Judy Davis, Ornella Muti, Carol Alt, Alison Pill, Flavio Parenti, Alessandro Tiberi, Alessandra Mastronardi, Antonio Albanese, Fabio Armiliato
Adultery is easy; comedy is hard. This is aptly demonstrated in Woody’s Allen’s billet-doux to Rome, formerly titled THE BOP CAMERON. In putting across an expensive production beautifully shot by Darius Khondji amid Rome’s cobblestone streets, the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, and the Spanish Steps, Mr. Allen is in top form showing how delicious is the violation of the Seventh Commandment. As a movie to tickle audience funny bones, the film succeeds sporadically, but when it does, TO ROME WITH LOVE rises to the top.
Allen cut the story into four vignettes, Alisa Lepselter’s editing merging them seamlessly despite the characters’ failing to meet one another in the concluding scenes as they would in a Robert Altman picture. He did so because, as the writer-director states in the production notes, “If you stop a hundred Romans, they’ll tell you: I could give you a million stories.” Well, at least one hundred as you know if you read Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th century allegory, The Decameron. Through the film, Allen satirizes celebrity, psychoanalysis, fear of flying, the approach-avoidance concept of adultery, and the overly idealized nature of love. While none of the characters perambulating about Rome acts out a story while escaping from the Black Death of 1348 as Boccaccio’s characters did, each is carefully individualized with all of his or her neurosis, and with the shticklach (emotional problems) of Allen’s character obviously the most pronounced.
If you tire of Woody Allen’s own fears and tics, you’re tired of life. As Jerry, he’s terrific as a passenger on Alitalia heading for The Eternal City, leaning for emotional support on his wife, Phyllis (the always amazing, cutting Judy Davis). He doesn’t like turbulence. He’s afraid of morticians and communists. His self-deprecatory humor emerges best when he observes “another character,” noting that many people have tried psychoanalysis: all have failed. Jerry and Phyllis are not merely into sightseeing but heading for Rome to meet their daughter, Hayley (Alison Pill), who had met sexy local Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), fallen in love, and gotten engaged.
Meanwhile, Allen’s kaleidoscope spins off the story of John (Alec Baldwin), a successful architect who has traveled to Italy to relive the best days of his life—thirty years back. Running into Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), a young architectural student living with his girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig), he gets a chance to see what he was like himself three decades earlier. When Jack contacts the funny, sexy Monica (Ellen Page), he falls in love (after all, we’re in Rome). As their relationship progresses, John appears as Jack’s mentor, invisible to all others, cynically advising Jack that Monica’s pretentions are b.s.
With all these interesting people walking the cobblestones, Woody Allen has a soft spot in his heart for the boring ones—and yes indeed, there are some Italians who are not funny, handsome, sexy and smart. Leopoldo Pisanello (Roberto Benigni) is thrown into a fantasy world not unlike that of Gil Pender in the director’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Though a mere clerk, he is suddenly surrounded by scores of paparazzi, snapping furiously, asking him such insightful questions as “What did you have for breakfast?” (Toast, butter and jam), and “What kind of underwear do you have?” (White boxer shorts.) The satire is trenchant if somewhat overstated.
Meet Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi), hoping to impress conservative relatives with his wife Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi). Through a mix-up, he is hooked up with a, well, hooker, Anna (Penelope Cruz) who jokes that he was probably a virgin when they married, and that she will “teach you something about love.” While Antonio falls under Anna’s spell, his wife Milly is likewise set up for adultery with a movie star, Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese).
Of the four vignettes, the best belongs to Mr. Allen’s, whose character is self-described as a retired, avant-garde producer of operas, his work having included “Rigoletto” with all the people dressed as white mice. Hearing the voice of his daughter’s future father-in-law, Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) singing arias from “I Pagliacci” in the shower, he sets up an audition for the reluctant tenor who discovers that he can sing best only when in the shower. A full-blown staged presentation of the opera, every seat in the house taken, allows Jerry to find the fulfillment he believes he never received—quite the contrary of Leopoldo’s experience in garnering far more attention than he deserves.
With the sounds of “Volare” on the soundtrack, the ruins and current life in Rome smashingly shot, a collection of top performers finding comedy and drama, romance and excitement through their contacts with one another, we’d have to conclude that not only has it been too long since Woody Allen appeared in his own movies but also that visiting Mr. Allen’s world for a precious one hundred twelve minutes is worth far more than three coins in the fountain.
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