Thursday 17 October 2019

Woody back on form with Rome love

Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

film of the week

to rome with love (12A, general release, 112 minutes)

Director: Woody Allen Stars: Woody Allen, Judy Davis, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Penelope Cruz

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Woody back on form with Rome love

The difficulty in fairly reviewing a late period Woody Allen film is that one is constantly assailed by memories of that formidable 40-fllm back catalogue.

Comparing everything he does to Manhattan or Annie Hall might not be kind, but it's almost unavoidable, and even the best of his recent films seem slight when placed beside his great mid-career triumphs. Midnight in Paris was charming, but it was no Hannah and Her Sisters, and no amount of wishful thinking will make it so.

That said, Midnight in Paris and Vicky Cristina Barcelona have shown flashes of the old comic genius that made Woody so special in the first place, and To Rome with Love continues this modest return to form.

In fact it includes some of Allen's funniest writing in decades, and also an appearance by the man himself, his first acting turn since Scoop in 2006.

To Rome with Love's rather flimsy structure may have something to do with its production history.

These days Woody and his sister Letty Aronson have to shop around to raise shooting money, and this film came about after four Roman distributors offered to finance an Allen film provided it was shot in the Italian capital.

Woody, ever the pragmatist, said yes, and cobbled together an ensemble drama vaguely inspired by Boccaccio's Decameron and consisting of self-contained stories.

In the first, and funniest, Alison Pill plays Hayley, a young New Yorker who's on holiday in Rome when she meets and falls in love with a handsome architect called Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), who asks her to marry him.

Hailing from a modest background, Michelangelo is something of a communist, and when Alison's prosperous Manhattan parents come to Rome to meet the in-laws, sparks inevitably fly.

Jerry (Allen) and his wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) bicker their way across the Atlantic, and Jerry is horrified by Michelangelo's politics.

He's a typical Allen construct, a neurotic, opinionated New Yorker who sternly resists his psychiatrist wife's attempts to diagnose him, snapping: "If you're channelling Freud, ask for my money back".

Jerry's all at sea in a foreign city, but cheers up when he hears Michelangelo's father Giancarlo (Fabio Amiliato) singing opera in the shower.

Jerry used to be a classical impresario and producer, and thinks Giancarlo has the voice of an opera star, the only trouble is, he can't sing a note outside the shower. Jerry's solution is radical: he will mount a production of Pagliacci with a shower booth on stage.

"He's gonna be the most popular opera star in the world!" Jerry announces. "Certainly the cleanest", his dubious wife replies.

The film's other stories are equally, and gleefully whimsical.

Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi play a provincial couple who fall foul, respectively, of an amorous film star and a prostitute (a nicely brassy Penelope Cruz) in the big smoke. Roberto Benigni is Leopoldo, a boring Roman businessman who's horrified when he wakes up one morning and discovers he's famous.

And Alec Baldwin is wonderful as a wise and wistful middle-aged architect who tries to manage the complex love life of a young man (Jesse Eisenberg).

To Rome with Love jumps about a bit, and Allen doesn't bother to tidy up the loose ends production wise. But the odd sloppy moment is almost part of the film's charm: it's hugely likeable and, in patches, sublimely funny.

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