To Rome With Love: Lovely City; Pity About Woody Allen's Script

In Woody Allen's latest, people—like, really young people—still talk, improbably, about "neuroses." Horny businessmen actually stand around the water cooler and ogle the hot secretary, as in the Playboy cartoons of the ancients. In the Allen Legendarium, Freudian psychiatrists still roam the land like the tragic elves of Middle-earth. All of which is completely OK, because, like Tolkien, Allen has created a magical universe in which these things persist. This time, a Love Boat's worth of stars—Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penélope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page, Allen himself—breeze through four Roman tales that include farces involving prostitutes and opera singers, as well as one Zelig-style fantasy and an artful exploration of memory. Allen deserves credit for his continued ability to stage absurd set pieces, and his Rome—shot by Darius Khondji—is luminous. Still, just as old men's ears and noses develop into exaggerated, cartilaginous bulbs, his problematic portrayals of women have become more pronounced over the years: Women throw themselves in groups into the married Benigni's bed; Allen the screenwriter overtly states that wives understand that they have to "share" their famous husbands; and goddammit, Woody Allen, you don't have to articulate every gross idea that goes through your head. But he seems without actual ill intent here, and the film is set in a wondrous realm, as evidenced by architects who still draw with pencils and T-squares and impoverished college students who propose "sailing around the boot" of Italy but who never mention their magical sacks of gold.

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