Posted August 28, 2012 by William Dunmyer in Woody Allen

To Rome With Love: Allen’s Best Since “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

“To Rome with Love” is my favorite Woody Allen movie since 2008’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” It channels the spirit of Federico Fellini to bring a surrealist touch to its sumptuous celebration of Rome. Perhaps it’s the imaginative and slightly post-modern surrealism that has caused mainstream critics to turn their backs on this film. Their loss. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not great. It doesn’t warrant a Best Picture nomination. But it is a delightful gem.

There are several distinct, unrelated storylines in “Rome,” giving it a multi-faceted quality. The first involves an accomplished American architect (Alec Baldwin) coming back to Rome for the first time in 30 years. In his student days, he had spent a year or so in Rome, and returning to the city for the first time has overwhelmed him with feeling.

He walks to his old neighborhood and meets an Architecture student (Jesse Eisenberg) who is doing the same thing Baldwin did, a young American having a glorious year in Rome that he’ll remember forever.

Gradually, the script works in a beautiful touch of surrealism. There aren’t two separate architects. They’re the same person. Baldwin is having a tender visit with his 21-year-old self, reliving the brief love affair he had in Rome when he was so young. Allen never gets overly sentimental with this storyline. I found it to be a beautiful meditation on lost youth.

Eisenberg does a wonderful job with this storyline. It’s the best I’ve ever seen from Eisenberg. Equally wonderful is Ellen Page (“Hard Candy,” “Juno”) as the well-intentioned but self-absorbed actress with whom the student architect has a one-week affair. One little week he remembers forever.

The second storyline involves an American couple (Allen and Judy Davis) in Rome to visit their daughter (Alison Pill), who is engaged to a young Italian man. When the in-laws meet, hilarity ensues. A crazy subplot emerges when Allen tries to convince his son-in-law’s father to pursue a career in opera. In addition to providing screwball comedy, this subplot allows the film to present some of the most beautiful singing you’ll hear at the movies all year.

Thirdly, there’s a young Italian couple from a small town who have come to Rome to celebrate their engagement. Penelope Cruz plays a good-hearted hooker who gets mixed up with them.

Fourth: Academy Award winner Roberto Benigni plays an ordinary accountant flung into 15 minutes of fame, in a wildly surrealistic send-up of the 21st-century mania for reality TV and instant fame.

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.