Let it be known that for Woody Allen, there are two kinds of lazy: the actually lazy and the more laid-back, coasting-on-his-unique-gifts kind of lazy. In his autumnal years, Woody has too often fallen on the former, making comedies (Hollywood Ending, Scoop, yes, Midnight in Paris) seemingly filmed from first drafts. The incredibly slight, but at least amusing and charming, To Rome With Love is the kind of lazy that should have clogged the back end of his CV all along. For better or worse, and Rome contains both, no one could have made it except Woody Allen.
Allen’s latest excursion to scenic places that will foot his bills finds him in ensemble mode, cutting between four stories that could never function on their own. The weakest finds a young Italian couple separated by forced farce, with the husband (Alessandro Tiberi) having to feign marriage to high-end prostitute Penélope Cruz (game but wasted). The best finds Jesse Eisenberg contemplating cheating on his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) with her pseudo actress friend (Ellen Page). What elevates this minor-even-for-Woody life lesson is Alec Baldwin as a smug, quippy imaginary friend who has the ability to advise (or mock) every character.
Elsewhere, a severely reined-in Roberto Benigni plays an average Italian who, in a Buñuelian occurrence, inexplicably becomes a mega-celebrity, the media taking hungry interest in his daily minutae. (Stern news anchor: “What did you have for breakfast?”) Also on U.S. screens after a long hiatus (since 2006’s Scoop ) is Allen himself, as an unhappily retired opera director who discovers his daughter’s boyfriend’s father is a dynamite tenor—albeit only in the shower. (He’s played by Fabio Armiliato, an actual tenor.) The obvious solution to this problem is the kind of silliness Allen would regularly upchuck in his “early, funny” period, and though To Rome With Love obviously pales in comparison to even his “middle, sort of funny” ’80s/’90s period, at least a package deal means it avoids feeling stretched-out like Midnight in Paris. The new Woody Allen is perfectly OK, a sentiment that should be felt more often.