As the title suggests, this Woody Allen film is first and foremost a love letter to the city of Rome. The architecture and the people look absolutely stunning. “To Rome With Love” does for Rome what “Midnight in Paris” does for Paris: It makes Rome look like the most romantic spot on earth.
If the stories in the movie aren’t as compelling as the city itself, that isn’t to say they aren’t entertaining. This is just a light, fun movie and should be enjoyed as such. Allen tells four different stories in Rome. Allen himself plays Jerry, a classical music producer who visits Rome to meet his future in-laws and finds that one of them is an opera impresario, at least in the shower. Soon, Jerry is putting on the oddest opera production Rome has ever seen. In another story, Roberto Benigni plays Leopoldo, an ordinary guy who gets a taste of sudden, unmerited fame. Alessandra Mastronardi and Alessandro Tiberi play newlyweds freshly arrived in Rome from a small town. In the big city they get a taste of life in the fast lane. Finally, in the most compelling of the narratives, Alec Baldwin plays John, an architect who looks back wistfully on his college years spent living and studying in Rome. Touring the city again, he gets a chance to see his younger self (Jesse Eisenberg). He tries to advise young John not to pursue a disastrous love affair, but of course the young never listen to the old, and the affair plays out just as it did the first time around.
I found these stories delightful, and it’s refreshing that Allen doesn’t try to weave them all together. Leopoldo’s story hilariously spoofs celebrity culture. The newlywed and opera stories are funny as well, even if they lack depth. It’s the story of John, however, that really sticks. Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg are both excellent. Baldwin’s amused fatalism at his younger self’s foolishness is hilarious. “So she’s beautiful, funny, smart, sexual, …and also neurotic? It’s like filling an inside straight!” “Go ahead, walk into the propeller.” Then, after watching older John judge and laugh at younger John, it’s especially poignant when younger John turns the tables. It’s a fascinating exploration of what might go on in the mind of a middle-aged man as he evaluates his life and decisions, past and present.
With a Rottentomatoes score of only 43%, “To Rome With Love” was clearly not a hit with the critics. Most complained that it wasn’t funny, or at least wasn’t among Woody Allen’s better work. I’ll agree, at least, that Woody Allen has done much better. “Midnight in Paris,” for example, is a much tighter, more consequential fantasy. “To Rome With Love” is rather weightless by comparison. The acting is excellent, however, and the Alec Baldwin storyline resonated enough with me to make the movie. I might have been disappointed at seeing this in the cinema, but as a date-movie to watch on DVD, it’s just fine.
3 stars out of 5