Never before have I ever been so confused yet very intrigued by a movie as I was with To Rome With Love. This is a movie I had to watch twice in a row just to get the whole story. It’s also one of those movies where every second moment some other famous face appears on-screen and you find yourself asking “Who ISN’T in this film?!”. Best of all though, it’s set in Rome. What other backdrop could you possibly ask for?
To Rome With Love follows the stories of four different groups of characters, all running linear to each other throughout the film. We are introduced to:
Hayley — an American long-term tourist (played by Alison Pill), who falls in love with, and eventually becomes engaged to, an Italian lawyer. Her parents (played by Woody Allen — his first appearance on film in years — and Judy Davis), then visit Rome to meet the soon-to-be in-laws and hilarity ensues (focussing on shower-time opera — watch it and you’ll understand).
Antonio — an Italian small town boy, who’s also a newlywed. Antonio and his new wife, Milly, travel to Rome to visit with his uncles on the prospect of becoming part of the flourishing family business and thus settling in the capital. Somehow a prostitute (played by Penelope Cruz) becomes involved, and both newlyweds find themselves facing situations that were not expected. Basically, this storyline is about an ordinary couple in extraordinary circumstances.
Leopoldo — this is where I started to become confused. Leopoldo (played by the Italian version of Woody, Roberto Benigni), is a regular man living a regular life. One day as he’s leaving for work, a mob of paparazzo surround him outside of his home, marking the beginning of a frenetic fifteen minutes of fame. I’d like to think that Leopoldo’s story is Woody’s take on the foolishness of fame and show business, and how such mundane things can become so over-embellished by the media that they’re made to sound — thus leading us to believe — that they’re important and relevant (Leo’s first TV interview focussed on his preference of buttered toast for breakfast).
John — okay, this is where I got REALLY confused. In fact, any time the movie turned to John (Alec Baldwin) and whomever he was with, I found myself asking “Is his character even real, or made-up by the others?!” John’s an architect visiting Rome with his wife. Having previously lived there while he was a student, John takes to the streets to try to find his old neighbourhood. In the process he meets Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), who just so happens to also be an architect student studying in Rome, living in the same neighbourhood that John used to reside in (the parallels are way too similar to be coincidental). Eventually we meet Jack’s girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig), as well as Sally’s best friend who is in town for a visit, Monica (Ellen Page). I won’t divulge too much information for this particular plot, but I will say this — John often pops up in scenes when it was unannounced that he was even there, nor does he even fit in with the setting (for example, from behind a couch when two people are kissing, when it was believed they were alone in the apartment). For this reason alone, I was confused. He interacts with the characters — they even speak to him — but his ability to act like Polkaroo in out-of-place circumstances is what has me still wondering about the presence of his character. Plus, it’s Alec Baldwin directed by Woody Allen. Imagine the conversations they had about John’s portrayal.
Overall, I think I love this movie just as much as Midnight in Paris, but for different reasons. Whereas Paris really took hold of me because of the writers and artists portrayed in it, Rome grabbed me because of the richness of the scenes — the views of the city, the music, the language, the broad array of crazy yet multi-layered characters. This is definitely a fun film to watch, but I must warn you: you have to pay attention or else you’ll be listening to a whole bunch of Italian being spoken and not have a clue about what’s going on. I’m still baffled by how fluently Penelope Cruz speaks in Italian, and how natural it sounds, despite her mother tongue being Spanish. She even speaks in the proper lilt and cadence of an Italian native. It’s quite remarkable.