I’m sorry to say that I’ve learned to approach Woody Allen’s work of the last two decades with more than small dose of caution. When it’s good it’s very good, but when it’s not good it tends to remind me a lot of an awkward social situation where you have to restrain yourself from saying, over and over again, “You said that already. Three times now. Can we talk about something else now?” Repetition is essential to Allen’s surrealism-infused comedy, and his oldest joke is the character he so often plays himself — petulant, neurotic in the most hyperbolic mode, and incapable of hearing what anybody else says. This movie is no exception to the usual rules. A number of times it stands on the verge of becoming unpleasant, but never quite falls victim to the worst of Allen’s directorial idiosyncracies. And just when you think it will, Rome — beautiful and sprawling, all buttery golds and waxy greens — sweeps in like a curtain and distracts you while the stagehands change the scenes behind it.
There is one scene in particular that comes to mind in this respect. In this scene, the lovely Alessandra Mastronardi, playing a countrified woman searching for a sophisticated coif for her travel-blasted locks, becomes lost in a labyrinth of plazas and basalt structures lit up gold in the sunlight. She looks around as though noticing her surroundings for the first time and, for a long moment, the camera turns away from her and does a 360 degree circular pan, as though amazed to find itself in such august surroundings. It’s a strangely formal gesture in the middle of such an absurdist comedy, but effective — acknowledging the city as a character in its own right.
A character I would certainly like to visit before I die =)
I can only say, I hope you like this song:
Like Allen’s persona, this song haunts the movie with great perseverance: you’ll hear it almost a dozen times over the 110 minutes of screen time. It is slightly less successful than Allen in avoiding wearing out its welcome.
This film boasts one of the most impressive ensemble casts I’ve seen in some time, and I’d like to mention a few highlights:
- Alec Baldwin has beautiful blue eyes.
- Jesse Eisenstein is truly talented at playing an unlikeable, manipulative 20-something. He may actually be a savant, of sorts.
- Ellen Paige is also capable of playing an unlikeable 20-something. I thought her (presumably) natural pluck made her immune to this, but it does not. Perhaps Eisenstein’s aura rubs off on her.
- Opera is much funnier when it is being performed inside of a shower.
- American audiences are expected not to notice Penelope Cruz’s accent. She’s learned Italian for previous roles, and I was curious how good or bad her accent actually was.
Despite all my criticisms, and the fact the plot charted a course directly through the center of Italian Romantic-Comedy cliche, I still enjoyed this movie thoroughly. I’d give it a solid B.