TO ROME WITH LOVE

Ok…let me just get it out-of-the-way. I may be one of the ONLY African-Americans who is a diehard Woody Allen fan!! My love affair began with Hannah and Her Sisters, Bullets Over Broadway and now To Rome WIth Love.   With a stellar cast including Jesse Eisenberg “The Social Network”, Ellen Page “Juno”, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni (remember him jumping over seats at the Oscars), Judy Davis, Greta Gerwig, Penelope Cruz and Woody Allen himself the performances alone are worth the movie ticket.  Kudos to casting directors, Juliet Taylor.

Rome is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the way it is captured on film by Darius Khondji is enough to make you want to book an Italian vacation…yesterday!!!

The one thing all these story lines have in common are love and desire.  I especially love how Woody gets his digs in with how reality television, its content and participants have taken over pop culture.  As seen when we watch Leopoldo Pisanello (Roberto Benigni), an ordinary Roman who suddenly finds himself to be one of the most talked about men in Rome. Leopoldo has no talent, is a common, ordinary person, who at first is totally bewildered and annoyed by all the attention he’s getting and then starts — without even realizing—revels in it.  His “celebrity” disappears as soon as the “next big thing” comes along, and Pisanello finds himself missing all the attention.

On the flip side of Leopoldo is Giancarlo (renowned tenor Fabio Armiliato), a man who is  a brilliant opera singer who sings only privately for his own enjoyment and has never tried it in public.   Giancarlo can only sing under very special circumstances…in the shower.   It sort of reminds of NBC’s “The Voice”, where the contestants are only heard and not seen.  Hi-larious!!!  To further complicate the situation Jerry (Woody Allen) tries desperately to make Giancarlo a star, much to the detriment of his future son-in-law (Flavio Parenti) in order to resurrect his career as a retired recording exec.

Another character in TO ROME WITH LOVE, Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi), arrives in Rome with her new husband Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) in search of a new life in the big city. Everything depends on the impression they make on Antonio’s wealthy relatives, who are in the position to give him a high-level job. Shortly after arrival in an effort to look her best, Milly sets out for a hairdresser, but gets hopelessly lost in the streets of Rome.  It reminded me of how when you ask three people for directions…you get three different sets, none of which get you any closer to your destination.  Frustrated, annoyed and with no cell phone, she accidentally stumbles on a film set with her favorite male film star.

At the same time, Antonio is surprised in his hotel room by the appearance of Anna (Penélope Cruz), a voluptuous call girl who mistakenly believes she has been hired to have sex with him. Protesting profusely, Antonio suddenly finds himself forced on the bed in a compromising position that his relatives find him when they arrive at his hotel room. Antonio explains that Anna IS actually his wife Milly. While Anna is willing to play along and say she is Antonio’s wife, this doesn’t mean she will alter her behavior, which sets the stage for many comic situations. Penelope Cruz is brilliant and makes you want to never leave a gym if you could walk around with a body like hers.

Last and definitely not least, is the character John (Alec Baldwin) who finds himself looking back in his young life in Rome to a moment in time where he hopelessly fell in love with his fiancé’s Sally (Greta Gerwig) best friend Monica played deliciously by Ellen Page.  It’s amazing what lust and curiosity can do to a man when faced with certain situations and women.  Jesse Eisenberg uses that nerdy, nervous persona to his ultimate advantage in his portrayal of Jack, which has us rooting for him in the end.

Woody Allen’s unique and genius way of telling the “human” story of how we are all just ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances always simultaneously provides some laughter, self-loathing and self-examination.

Put this film on your “to-do”list this summer and I wouldn’t be surprised if some Oscar nods come his way…yet again.

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