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Saturday, July 7, 2012

From Rome With Love? Hardly

Now I'm depressed.  And for all the wrong reasons!!  My only child is at camp in a foreign land.  A vacation day yesterday was spent, (gasp!!!) painting.  It's damn near 1000 degrees here in the Northeast.  Those things are all perfectly acceptable.  In fact, compared to the two hours spent watching Woody Allen's latest, To Rome With Love, painting restrooms on the Jersey Shore sounds more appealing.

A few years back Allen made the critically acclaimed Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  Folks adored it (myself not included) and it provided Allen new life.  It was similar to 2005 when he made the brilliant Match Point, set in London.  He has been out of NYC for a while now.  And like his time spent in New York, he is prone to miss the mark from time to time.   For every Hannah and Her Sisters there is Melinda and Melinda.  And likewise, for every Midnight in Paris, there is this colossal dud of a picture.

To be fair, Allen is downright prolific.  When in Rome marks his 48th directing credit.  He has also written 70 (including this one) feature films.  With that massive amount of material can we give the man a pass?

The answer is no.  And here is why.

This column wrote about Midnight in Paris a year ago.  Review here  Allen is guilty of questionable decisions both in his personal and professional life.  Why the insistence to churn this film out so quickly after the success (Paris is Allen's highest grossing film ever?)  In fact, why make 11 films in the last 11 years?  Look at his peers and their collective output from the previous decade.  Martin Scorsese has made 7 films over that time ( a few were documentaries.)  Oliver Stone has made 5 films (including 1 documentary.)  Francis Ford Coppola made 2, largely ignored films over the past decade.  Robert Altman, Ken Russell and Stanley Kubrick are all dead.  Speilberg is not really a peer, is he?  You get the point.  Allen puts out films like the Chris Christie puts down ice cream cones.  And much like the over indulgent NJ governor, Allen needs to show some restraint.  Less, can be a whole lot more.

Again, like Christie, Mr Allen should no longer appear on video, television and certainly not movie screens.  Here he plays Jerry,  the father of Hayley (the over-employed and pedestrian Allison Pill) and husband to Phyllis (the superb Judy Davis.)  A few things...  Davis looking 20 years Allen's junior is one thing.  Allen looking 80 years older than the cherubic Pill is another thing altogether.  And Allen's once unmistakable voice is due for a throat clear.  He sounds sick.  He sounds old.  And hiking his pants up to his neck aren't helping.  His one liners now feel more like the awkward old guy shouting out at old folks home (something his character fears in the movie) rather than witty musings from an intellectual.  Allen, without question, can craft a motion picture from script to every detail of production.  In 2012 it is beyond time he not appear in them.

Finally, casting others to play a younger Allen type (ya know, the neurotic anti-hero, quick with a quip and slow with the charisma) does not always work.  Owen Wilson somehow worked.  Will Ferrell epically failed.  John Cusack?  Yes.  Here, Jesse Eisenberg (one note and predictable) and Alessandro Tiberi both fail to recreate Allen's angst and charm.  Eisenberg is an American studying architect thrust into a romantic triangle with the under-utilized Greta Gerwig and over-used Ellen Page.  Tiberi finds himself in a similar mess with the radiant, and effective Penelope Cruz and charming Alessandra Mastronardi.  He is no match for either of them.  For the record, an Italian accent mimicking the famously New York Allen schtick is beyond odd.

There are moments, as in every Allen film, that bring a smile.  There are scenes of pure beauty as Allen captures the life and depth of Rome (not the main character Paris was in last years film.)   Let it be known Allen is not only smart with his prose, but with his camera too.  From Manhattan many years ago to Paris last year his cinematographic achievements are worthy.  There are even good roles, like Cruz's prostitute or Eisenberg's conscience (played winningly by Alec Baldwin) There are just too few of them.

Story lines about celebrity and Italy's (read: everyone's) fascination with it and Jerry's failed music career and effort to remedy it feel both forced, and cliche.  Not every idea is a great one.  Moreover, not every idea is a good one.

Casting is also a huge issue here.  Gerwig and Page should have played each others roles and who let Carol Alt on set??

The opening shot panned into a famous Italian traffic circle and one of the whistled guards directing the steel chaos.  "He stopped the viewers and told us Rome is a city of love, and stories from everywhere.  Here are just a few..."

Allen has spent several years abroad over the past decade or so.  He, like his other socially inept filmmaking friend Roman Polanski, have taking solace in Europe and its free spirit.  It has served as inspiration and muse.

That could be a good thing.  Maybe Woody can hang in Rome, drink the wine and start writing a love song for all things Roman.  Cause this one ain't it.

Like wine, he might need this one to breathe a while too.  How about a 2016 release date?

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