Movie Review: To Rome With Love

romeTo Rome With Love
Sony Pictures Classics, Rated R

3 stars

The prevailing wisdom about escaping to exotic places, is that you unfortunately take yourself with you, no matter where you go. But in the case of Woody Allen, his early fretting Brooklyn agoraphobia has segued quite nicely into humorously adventurous neurotic escapades abroad, and with To Rome With Love on the current cinematic itinerary. Even if still essentially the road to nowhere Woody Allen guilt trip.

As much a traffic cop as film director with his multiple overlapping narrative strands always threatening to but never quite spinning out of control, Woody opens To Rome With Love with what else, a possibly winking nod to a bungling Rome cop not quite directing traffic. We’re then introduced to a cast of familiar but never tedious Woody characters sprung from his humble neurotic imagination, that he is never shy about sharing with us. And seemingly eager as always to engage the audience as his personal metaphorical shrink.

Dropped into this mix of the usual hand-wringing American tourists butting heads with locals perplexed by an awful lot lost in translation, is Woody as Jerry. He’s the henpecked spouse of Phyllis (Judy Davis) who has reluctantly overcome his fear of flying (due to his aetheistic lack of belief in an afterlife!) to meet his future Italian son-in-law, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti).

But even more worrisome to Jerry than suspicions that Michelangelo may be a communist, is his own latent fear of aging and retirement, and loss of meaning in life as an opera director. Which leads Jerry to an unhealthy obsession fostering the untapped talent of Michelangelo’s undertaker father Giancarlo (eminent tenor Fabio Armiliato), who can sing exquisite opera but never out of the shower.

Roberto Benigni also shows up periodically in the story, and nearly preempting the narrative proceedings every time he does. Where he seems to function as a running joke about a supremely ordinary Italian working stiff, suddenly and incomprehensibly pursued by the idiotic tabloid press, possibly famous for not being famous. And lending clues to Woody’s own sentiments about fame as both euphoric drug and unhealthy bondage.

Additionally, there are a couple of far less interesting and intermittently annoying hyperactive interludes. And involving several collections of stars inhabiting a few overcrowded love triangles. Featuring faithless foreign student Jack (Jesse Eisenberg); Alec Baldwin as who knows, a lovelorn older figment of Jack’s imagination; Ellen Page as an intellectually pretentious, petite femme fatale; and Greta Gerwig doing her usual doormat role. And finally in yet another parallel plot line, Penelope Cruz’s unlikely exasperated call girl begging for some erotic attention.

To Rome With Love is Woody’s fourth both literal and figurative escapist fare abroad (following London’s Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris). And in which the chronically flustered filmmaker continues to be weighed down by his telltale psychological and cultural baggage he drags with him across the Atlantic.

And which is teeming with Woody’s usual, barely cloaked personal preoccupations with aging and the loss of purpose, infidelity, and the pros and cons of that drug called fame. But always invigorated with fresh surprises in store that tend to make the voyage, however unconventional, predictably worthwhile.