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Mr. Allen goes to Rome

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‘To Rome With Love’     film review by Gary Chew

Tell me, how long has it been since you’ve seen a film that mentions the lead male character in a 1949 movie titled, “The Fountainhead”? Howard Roark was a man who came from the curious fantasies of the controversial Ayn Rand, who created the character in her phallic-infused 1943 novel of the same name.

Roark is recalled by Woody Allen in his latest romantic travelogue series of European cities, the newest titled, “To Rome With Love," now playing at the Tower Theater on Land Park at Broadway, Sacramento and 7 other cineplexes in the area.

First Allen took us, not so romantically, to London (“Match Point”). More recently it was Barcelona, then Paris.

Allen always has you covered when there’s a need to see a movie that pokes polemical fun at certain elements of American society, like Howard Roark (Gary Cooper), or people who spend lots of time at their country club as well as touring exotic places for weeks on end.

The long suffering, curmudgeonly filmmaker takes all his movies quite personally. It’s through them he gets back, rhetorically, at those who don’t favor his look on life and others who do really vacuous things with their lives – as he sees it.

I guess Roark and his lover in “The Fountainhead,” Dominic Francon, would be good examples. How’s this for an opening line from Allen’s new movie, spoken by an American country club member on vacation in Rome who is having a luscious lunch with fellow travelers on a sunny piazza just outside a chic Italian restaurant?

“The food’s better here than in Malibu.”

Or how about Jerry, the character Allen plays in “To Rome with Love” saying, “My work’s a little fast for mass appeal”?

Allen fires these and other verbal salvos among a few topical threads that include adultery, youthful promiscuity, the strain and absurdity that can come from being famous and, conversely and ironically, the satisfaction that is often found just leading a simple, anonymous, family-man life.

To get things straight in your mind for the large ensemble cast that appears in this kaleidoscopic caper, the following might be helpful.

There are young people and retired people, and others with so much fame they feel naked in front of their public while ever-gloating television media are displaying paucity of substance by asking the notables really stupid questions.

Adulterous goings-on focus on newlyweds, Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) and Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi). Less naïve participants are Anna, a Roman hooker wearing a dress that’s as red as it is short (Penelope Cruz) and Luca (real Italian film star, Antonio Albanese), a fictional Italian film star.

Youthful promiscuity brings together John (a not so young Alec Baldwin), an American architect and Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), whose girlfriend is Sally (Greta Gerwig). Then there’s Sally’s actress gal pal, the flaky Monica (Ellen Page).

You should know that Baldwin’s John-the-Architect is nothing like Howard Roark, who is also an architect in “The Fountainhead.”

The thread with more matured characters includes a former (not so mature) opera director named Jerry; his psychiatrist spouse, Phyllis (Judy Davis); their daughter Hayley (Alison Pill); Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), a harried, ersatz celebrity/family man; and a singing undertaker called Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato, a for-real Italian operatic tenor). Giancarlo is the father of Michelangelo (Fabio Parenti), Hayley’s Roman love interest.

“To Rome With Love” is crammed with humorous one-liners, dialogue and circumstance, but doesn’t coalesce with the flair and craft of “Midnight in Paris.” This is particularly noticeable in the foibles containing youthful promiscuity.

Although I’m sure Baldwin is an audience draw, and most assuredly a fine film actor, his part seems disconnected from that ensemble’s tribulations. John’s mentoring of Jack in the ways of young love seems stilted to me and almost intrusive. Moreover, the way Eisenberg plays Jack suggests that the “The Social Network” man appears not neurotic enough to comfortably settle into a Woody Allen picture.

On the other hand, Sacramento’s Gerwig and Page seem as at home in Allen’s script as would Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow, Muriel Hemingway or Scarlett Johansson. Gerwig’s part puts her in a bit more subdued character than others she has done, while Page’s Monica is pretty damned nutty. Nuttiness comes easily for that Allen-favored female, Penelope Cruz, doing her streetwalker swagger in the city along the Tiber.

Opera-lovers may or may not appreciate the well-staged and spoofy Pagliacci scenes as sung by Signore Armiliato, but the laughs are there for those even with a modicum of good humor in their souls.

Going on 77, Woody Allen continues to look at life, and live his, it appears, as if he were 27. Obviously, the guy was a “dirty” young man.

As Roberto Benigni might say to Woody as they whizz together down the Appian Way in a Maserati once driven by Marcello Mastroianni, “Ecco la vita, Signore Allen!”  Anita Eckberg, of course, would be at the wheel.


Copyright © 2012 by Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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