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In Woody Allen’s most recent European city love affair To Rome With Love, we follow the romances, adventures and predicaments of a group of visitors and residents in the Eternal City. First we meet Jerry (Woody Allen himself) and his wife Phyllis (Judy Davis), an American couple visiting their daughter (Alison Pill) and her Italian fiancée named Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). Jerry, neurotically in denial about his retirement, schemes to get Michelangelo’s father Giancarlo (Fabio Armillato) to perform opera in his avant-garde production. Unfortunately, Giancarlo only sounds good in the shower and luckily, Jerry has a solution to that.
Then there’s the middle-class family man Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), who wakes up one morning to find himself a celebrity. Suddenly the news outlets are reporting on his coffee spills at work, the type of jam on his toast and his statements on the weather. While it could be viewed as a hilarious satire of our society’s obsession with celebrities and pop culture, it’s also Allen’s testament to the fact that what we do on a daily basis is in fact interesting; we just need to change our perspective on things in order to find it fascinating. Regardless of interpretation, it’s hard to deny that Benigni’s performance as Joe Schmoe-turned-sex-symbol is absolutely hysterical.
There’s also the young American architect Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) who falls in love with his girlfriend’s best friend Monica (Ellen Page), a temptress with quite the cultural and intellectual repertoire. This story is narrated, somewhat awkwardly so, by a man named John (Alec Baldwin) who seems to have experienced Jack’s trouble before and attempts to guide him through the circuitous streets of seduction and love.
And lastly, there’s the just-married couple Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) who oddly find themselves in a farcical situation in which Antonio has to pass off prostitute Anna (Penélope Cruz) as his wife. Cruz is successful as the seductress, amusing without trying to be, and her performance delivered more laughs than I was expecting.
Each scenario, as in Allen’s 2011 Midnight in Paris, is constructed around happenstance and absurdity that ensues. But somehow he still has us believing in the possibilities. Like strolling the streets of Rome, Allen’s films show us the ways people find love and their lot in life, even if it means meandering a short distance—or crossing the pond to a historical European city. So, Woody Allen, where are we off to next? I’ve got my film passport at the ready.