To Rome With Love, Woody Allen’s latest European love letter, finds the prolific writer/director presenting an assortment of vignettes set in a beautifully photographed Rome (courtesy of cinematographer Darius Khondji). It is also fairly enjoyable, as long as you’re not expecting another Midnight in Paris.
The vignettes are variable in quality and play more like extended, underdeveloped sketches: Alec Baldwin plays an architect who encounters a younger version of himself (Jesse Eisenberg) and proceeds to dispense advice when the younger man jeopardizes his secure relationship (with Greta Gerwig) to pursue her best friend, a neurotic actress (Ellen Page); young newlyweds (Alessandra Mastronardi and Alessandro Tibieri) are separated and have a variety of amorous adventures (involving among others, Penelope Cruz as a prostitute with a heart of gold-is there any other kind?); and in the two most successful segments, opinionated everyman Roberto Benigni is forced to fend off the swarming paparazzi, while Woody Allen (in a welcome return to acting) plays a retired opera impresario (typecasting?) in Rome to meet his daughter’s intended—and discovers that the father is an incredible opera singer—albeit only in the shower.
To be sure, To Rome With Love is minor Allen: funny, but ramshackle. Eisenberg and Page don’t really connect as a prospective couple, although Baldwin works overtime to redeem the segment; the episode involving the newlyweds has some absurd (but amusing) developments and a very funny scene where Penelope Cruz is posing as the young man’s bride at a party and is greeted by a parade of well-heeled clients. Benigni is quite likable as the ordinary guy who is first put off by his new-found (and inexplicable) fame—and is a little put out when he loses it. Allen and Judy Davis generate laughs as the mildly bickering, retired couple on holiday, but Fabio Armilato steals their segment as the opera-singing father. Yet, even in this episode, there is the sense that Allen could have added a plot twist or two to make it really sing. In the end, one is left with a number of good lines, fun performances, and a Roma that makes one reluctant to say Arrivederci.
Writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is an offbeat, melancholy romantic serio-comedy set against the impending destruction of mankind as we know it (those darned asteroids). Steve Carell plays a dour insurance man (world ending, wife has left him) who resists his friends’ attempts to set him up with some meaningless pre-apocalyptic sex; meanwhile Keira Knightley is the neighbor with romantic issues of her own and a desire to get to England to spend the last days with her family. The bulk of the movie follows these two lost souls on an odyssey as they assist each other in achieving their final goals: Knightly will provide a car to help Caeell re-connect with his high school “true love”, while Carell assures Knightley he knows someone “with a plane.” Along the way, they encounter revelers and rioters; a talkative, suspicious trucker (William Petersen); Knightley’s former love, an avowed survivalist (Derek Luke); and finally Carell’s father (Martin Sheen)., with whom Carell has some unfinished business. Carell and Knightley are very appealing indeed as the emotionally wounded couple who might have never met if thevents had been different. They inject a degree of sincerity and feeling into the scenario that one hopes the couple they will be able to find some long-delayed meaning in their lives, in the face of the inevitable day of reckoning.