Years ago in the days of black and white TV there was a series titled “Naked City.” At the end of each episode the narrator would dramatically end the tale by saying, “and this has been one of 8 million stories in the Naked City.” Now jump forward to one of Neil Simon’s masterpieces, “Plaza Suite,” which revolved around a series of encounters, sexual innuendos, clandestine meetings and marriage preparations. Got it yet? Okay, now take all of these hilarious pranks and bizarre behaviors taking place in “Plaza Suite” and place them into the lives of various characters, each with his or her story like those “Naked City” characters, and you have Woody Allen’s latest cinematic endeavor of “To Rome with Love.”
For those of you who are fans Woody Allen’s style of crazy over the top tales and irreverent renderings of all that is sacred, in this case marriage, adultery, acting, big business and small town naïveté’s who come to the big city (but this time it’s not New York or Paris or London but the Eternal City of Rome). Well it’s no wonder that some of the biggest names in film flocked to be a part of tales individually told against the backdrop of one of the most photogenic cities of the world.
Alec Baldwin, who seems to be in just about everything lately, heads up the cast which includes the “Social Network” star Jesse Eisenberg, the Italian actor Vinicio Marchioni who is a burglar turned lover of newlywed Milly (Allessandra Mastronardi, who by the way is delightful as the small town girl from southern Italy and is Vinicio’s real girlfriend), a street walker character played by Penelope Cruz hysterically well, the energetic Roberto Benigni of “Life is Beautiful” fame whose rendition of being an ordinary guy who suddenly enjoys notoriety and thus becomes famous just for having that fame is a delightful commentary on how media can build up a person and then as quickly move on to yet another inane story which smacks of the Kardashian and for you older readers maybe the Gabor (who can forget Zsa Zsa in “GIGI”) sisters phenomenon. The list goes on with the likes of Allesandro Tiberi as the virgin newly wed being introduced to big business in Rome, while his new wife, Milly whose adventures while lost in Rome ends up in bed with the burglar while her new husband must pass off the street walker as his wife is really funny and played quite well. Many of the scenes in which the Italian characters shine are done in Italian with subtitles. For me, this adds an authentic flavor to the film which, after all, is a commentary on modern moral mores, marriage and love making to a generation who takes all that’s in this film as a matter of course rather than the scandalous and immoral nature of the adventures and encounters which Woody may have intended to convey with tongue in cheek.
Despite the wide range of actors, some witty scenes and often fast paced scenes offering a commentary on the lives of those in the film industry, big business, and even loving relationships, the real star of this film is Rome itself. And Woody uses each of its wonderful monuments and ancient ruins to full advantage as backdrops to his scenes with a vibrancy that makes the viewer want to book a trip to Italy asap. One particular scenestruck me in the artistic section of my heart. It was that of the Piazza Campidoglio located on the most sacred ground of the Capitoline Hill of Rome. It was shown at the exact angle in which it is portrayed on the cover of my new novel, THE BROOCH. Woody and I, it seems have a similar eye for dramatic depiction.
Alas, even the Piazza Campidoglio, the glorious Spanish Steps, on which a marching band stood while playing the song “Volare,” nor the view of the Coliseum in golden light could save the story line for my guest in the local cinema outside of Philadelphia. My mother loved the scenes of Rome itself but the story line was not her “cup of tea.” Now she loved the Italian language dialogue because she could understand what they were saying without the subtitles helping but that didn’t save the movie for her either. Now let me balance her comments with those of two “baby boomer” women with whom we spoke at the end of the film. They were coming down the stadium seating steps laughing at the antics of the film and loved every minute of it. To say that they were great admirers of Woody Allen would be an understatement. They just couldn’t understand as to why my mother felt the way she did about the film. For them it was far better then Woody’s “Midnight in Paris” film.
As for me “To Rome with Love” has earned a grade of B for its lovely portrayal of the Eternal City, some very funny scenes and the over the top portrayal of the retired musical director of stage productions and concerned father (played by Woody Allen) who despite his atheistic leanings is abhorred of his daughter’s (Alison Pill) intention to marry the socialist lawyer (Flavio Parenti) son of an Italian undertaker (Fabio Armiliato) who sings opera in the shower. By the way Fabio is really a tenor of international accomplishments. And that is only part of the story.
(The novels of Arthur Cola include Papa and the Leprechaun King, The Shamrock Crown, The Stone Cutter Genius and The Brooch, available on Amazon/Kindle and www.feedaread.com. His screenplay, “Ring of the Magi” is now in development by Producer/Director Ron Kolman. Take a Tour of Italy with the author and fall in love with Rome this October. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org ).