To Rome With Love
Woody Allen has said that he hates this title. It was forced on him by some semi-literate money goons who didn’t “get” his original one, which was Bop Decameron. (I’ll admit I’m not quite sure I get it, either, though I know it was a reference to a book by Boccaccio.) His second title was even better, I think: Nero Fiddles. Everybody would get that, right? But it still didn’t make the grade. At least the one they settled on doesn’t actually suck, but it’s not wildly original.
It consists of four stories that don’t really connect except for the setting. They are not told sequentially, but all at once, jumping from one to another. I think this was a good choice. It kept me going, where I might have been a little bored by the smallness of any one of them. Some have an element of magical realism, which I usually like, if the writer is a good one like Woody, and some are more or less straight. I liked the movie well enough, but it’s not in Woody’s Top Ten.
John’s Story: Jesse Eisenberg and Greta Gerwig are an American couple. Greta’s old friend Ellen Page shows up, emotionally in bad shape. He develops a crush on her, and eventually they plan to be together, but it turns out badly, for Jesse. Complicating the story is Alec Baldwin, who keeps advising Jesse that this is going to be a disaster. But he pops in and out of scenes with no logic, and sometimes he interacts with everyone, and sometimes only Jesse can see and hear him. This is not explained, but it didn’t bother me at all. Still, it was not one of the most effective of the stories.
Antonio’s Story: I guess my least favorite was this one, which is all in Italian and stars people who may be familiar to audiences in Italy, plus Penelope Cruz. (The language has nothing to do with my not caring for it much.) In the end it’s just a bedroom farce, with the new bride getting lost in Rome and wandering onto a film set, where the aging movie idol she adores tries to seduce her. Meanwhile, a flashy whore who arrives in the new bridegroom’s room by mistake is persuaded to take the role of the new bride.
Hayley’s Story: This one is ludicrous, but very funny. Woody and Judy Davis come to Rome to meet their daughter’s betrothed. Woody hates him on sight, but accidentally hears his father, an undertaker, singing opera in the shower. He’s terrific! Woody is an opera producer (a little ahead of his time, his wife keeps saying; he staged several operas with everyone dressed as white mice). He wants to promote this man but the man is reluctant, he has stage fright. And sure enough, his audition is a disaster. But then Woody has the bright idea of having him sing in the shower, on stage. He’s a hit in his solos, and soon is starring in a production of Pagliacci, with his shower stall moved around as needed. Insanity! But lovely.
Leopoldo’s Story: My favorite, and the simplest. This one is also in Italian. The great Roberto Benigni is an ordinary man with a family and a job. Suddenly one day he leaves his house and is surrounded by a toxic swarm of paparazzi. He is a celebrity. They won’t leave him alone, they want to know his opinions on everything. He appears on talk shows, he’s in the news. He is completely befuddled by it all. There is no reason given, and that is perfect. It goes on for a week or two, and just as suddenly they are gone. You immediately think of Andy Warhol and his famous dictum, but I think it provides an explanation for something that is otherwise inexplicable, which is the celebrity status of people like the Kardashian family, whose only claim to fame is that Papa K once almost sort-of represented OJ Simpson for about five minutes.