Tuesday, August 21, 2012


I've been catching up on seeing movies while they're still in theaters, and the latest was Woody Allen's latest.  Most people like some Woody Allen movies. And some people like most Woody Allen movies. There's a few who don't like any Woody Allen movies, and from conversations I've had they're people who are still mad at him for his personal life and actually haven't seen a Woody Allen movie in decades.

But I'm the only person I've ever known who has never seen a Woody Allen movie I didn't like. Some are better than others, and a lot of his most recent have been some of his best. But even the ones that aren't so good are still always uniquely Woody Allen movies in ways that brings me movie watching pleasure even if for some in inconsistent doses, as was the case with TO ROME WITH LOVE.

I saw it with a friend who liked TO ROME WITH LOVE a lot but hadn't dug Woody's previous flick, his most commercially successful in decades, if not his alltime most commercially succesful: MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. But for me that movie was a masterpiece with every scene working perfectly while TO ROME WITH LOVE seemed hit and miss as it went along.

It's an amazing cast, and there are some great performance moments, including every moment Penelope Cruz is onscreen, and ditto for Ellen Page. I was happy to see Woody playing a role himself and the incomparable Judy Davis as his wife. But their scenes sometimes seemed like schtick and almost out of place with the rest of the movie, and at other times had me laughing out loud.

As is often the case in Woody's flicks, especially MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and now TO ROME WITH LOVE, there's an element of fantasy that is in many ways original but evocative of classic movie fantasy tropes. But where it worked for me in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is sometimes didn't in TO ROME WITH LOVE. This is true mainly in the out and out fantasy subplot that involves Alec Baldwin as an actual character but one who can interrupt his scenes with commentary like Marshall McLuhan in ANNIE HALL.

Alec's one of our greatest film actors (and an old friend) and the storyline his character's a part of is classic Woody (nebisshy guy, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is in a relationship with an attractive woman—the incomparable Greta Gerwig who brings her indie penchant for an almost anti-Hollywood realism to her character—and falls for a seductress not half as substantial etc.). But despite the great acting by all involved—especially Ellen Page playing the seductress—it was hit and miss with some terrific bits and some surprisingly tired ones.

And though this also is often the case in Woody's flicks, it usually can be justified somehow, but not Eisenberg's in TO ROME WITH LOVE, and that is that Woody's characters almost always live in apartments that only the wealthy could afford even when they're artists or students. Like Eisenberg's character in TO ROME WITH LOVE. He's a student studying to become an architect but he lives like someone who has already made a good living at it. In Woody's defense, a lot of the movie is meant to be absurd in the service of making sometimes obvious points (though nonetheless not usually made in other films).

Like the subplot that's been getting the most attention, in which Roberto Benigni plays another nebbishy character, one who women don't notice and whose opinions no one cares about, and all that is reversed when he suddenly becomes famous. I wasn't sure what Woody's ultimate point was in this storyline, but it seemed to be that celebrity has its downsides (which we of course all know by now) but it's still better than being a poor nobody (though no one in the movies seemed poor).

That's refreshingly honest in a way, and well played by Benigni, and may be the most fun part of the film, that and Penelope Cruz's scenes. Anyway, in the end, it's worth watching because it's Woody and he's always trying something other filmmakers don't, and because so much of the acting is outstanding despite the hit and miss aspect of the screenplay. But like I said above, I've never seen a Woody Allen movie I didn't like on some level.

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