After the sensational success of his previous film, Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen trots off to another tourist-packed European capital for more whimsical fantasy, with significantly less satisfying results.
To Rome With Love intercuts four different and totally unconnected storylines: in one, Allen (in his first on-screen role since 2006's Scoop) travels to the Eternal City to visit his daughter, who's engaged to a local. Playing a retired opera director of poor repute, Allen is stunned to find that his future son-in-law's father is an astonishing singer – but only in the shower. Meanwhile, Roberto Benigni plays an ordinary Roman who literally becomes famous overnight for absolutely no reason. Meanwhile, a young Italian couple from the countryside arrives in the city, but become separated accidentally and get involved with sexy Romans (including Penelope Cruz – who knew she spoke Italian so well?). Meanwhile, Jesse Eisenberg plays an architecture student studying in Rome who winds up falling for his girlfriend's flaky actress buddy (Ellen Page), in town for a visit. Alec Baldwin plays Eisenberg's apparently future self, weighing in on the situation with his alter ego.
Whereas most Woody Allen films, even the less distinguished ones, have some interesting ideas at their core, To Rome With Love subsists primarily on gags. There was a scene in the recent Woody Allen: A Documentary where the director reveals files of random story concepts that he's scribbled down over the years. He reads through a few, and they all sound pretty cool – it's obvious that the guy's hugely creative. But cool story concepts don't always translate into great feature films, and To Rome With Love feels like Allen took four of these random concepts and pasted them together, knowing that each one alone couldn't withstand a feature-length story. As a result, each one is half-baked at best, and the whole thing ends with a shrug.
There's no profundity here. Just a few solid laughs (Allen and Judy Davis, playing his wife, get most of the good lines), some fun magic realism as only Allen could get away with, and lots of beautiful, tourist-baiting shots of sunny Rome. It's a nice travelogue for the city. If that's all you want, that's all you get.