To Rome with Love (2012)

(Netflix Streaming, December 2016) As I’m exploring Woody Allen’s filmography, there’s a certain pleasure in seeing him back on-screen after a lengthy pause. To Rome with Love is an interwoven anthology film of four different stories playing against its roman backdrop, from Alec Baldwin’s recollections of a love triangle made alive to Roberto Benigni’s strange brush with fame to Allen discovering an unlikely signing talent to a couple of visiting newlyweds experiencing life in the capital. Like most ensemble stories, its interest rises and falls unpredictably, but the overall effect is strong, with enough romance, humour and weirdness to keep things interesting. Of the stories, I was most struck by Alec Baldwin’s resigned-but-wise reactions to the developing love triangle in-between Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page—it’s funny and a bit wistful at once, with plot and commentary joyously crashing in one another. The newlywed’s adventures are also funny, although occasionally too close to humiliation comedy for my taste. Allen’s segment is enhanced by a typical Allen performance as a nattering shmuck—the outlandish situation he creates is just the icing on the cake. Finally, there’s the unexplainable weirdness of an ordinary man (Benigni) brought to sudden fame and dropped just as rapidly—a metaphor for our social media age, perhaps, but still worthwhile on its own. To Rome with Love probably won’t endure as one of Allen’s classics—it’s too scatter-shot, too willing to make audiences laugh without deeper themes—but it’s a relatively good time at the hands of a comedy veteran, and perhaps his funniest film in a while. As an entry in his “European capitals” phase, it’s slight but decent.

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