The most purposefully outlandish story stars the Oscar-winning Italian comic Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful) as a middle class schlub who suddenly and inexplicably becomes famous – for being himself. With no change in his average life whatsoever, paparazzi begin to follow him out of nowhere, tabloids cover his every mundane move, and the world of fame opens up to him in all its advantages and insanities. It’s probably the most singularly effective of the stories as its bizarre premise paints a telling picture of how absurd fame can be. It can unfairly suffocate a person and his privacy, while also giving someone an inflated and unrealistic sense of self-importance.

The other two stories are much more slight. In one, Allen flaunts Penelope Cruz’s (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) ample sexuality in a tight dress; she’s a call girl who’s accidentally sent to a newlyweds’ room when the bride’s away. A comedy of manners ensues that ultimately leads to the bride and groom (both uptight) being tempted by infidelity, the message being that maybe a little extra-marital tryst can be good for a marriage (nice).

The final act belabors a story of young love and in-laws clashing for the sole purpose of staging one joke: an opera tenor performing live onstage while singing in the shower. All the effort just to get that “New Yorker cartoon” image isn’t worth it.

To Rome With Love is Woody Allen on autopilot. Those expecting something similar to 2011's also European-city-titled Midnight in Paris will be disappointed. Even visually this film doesn't compare. Paris was a romantic travelogue of its titular city; Rome is barely a postcard. There’s a lot going on but little resonates – emotionally, comedically, or philosophically. All of Allen’s talents are on display but there’s no inspiration to bring them together. There's variety, which alone may prove entertaining enough for Allen devotees, and an editorial structure that helps diffuse the monotony, but on the whole it’s a largely forgettable experience. To Rome With Love comes off as an exercise in prolific output (as it helps Allen maintain his One-Film-a-Year pace), and little else.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Wine is consumed over dinner; no drunkeness.
  • Language/Profanity: A couple uses of the S-word. One use of the F-word (to describe a sexual act). One use of the Lord’s name in vain. A good deal of sexual conversations (see below).
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: In two of the stories (particularly one), several detailed and graphic discussions/recollections of past sexual exploits, including a lesbian encounter. A man lies in bed with a sexy naked woman (who is covered by a blanket) while a third comes to join them. Cruz portrays a provocatively dressed call-girl, emphasizing her cleavage. While clothed, Cruz lies in bed with a half-naked man. A man seduces a reluctant woman at length in a hotel room. A woman commits adultery (implied by being in bed together, and a flirtatious escalation and passionate kissing). A couple has sex in the bushes (heard, not seen). A couple has sex in a car (heard, not seen).
  • Violence/Other: A robbery is staged at gunpoint.

Publication date: July 6, 2012