Starring Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page. Written and directed by Woody Allen. PG. 112 min. Opens July 6.
The elderly Woody Allen has become such a self-confessed lazy filmmaker that when he happens to make a really good comedy, it comes as a surprise. That was the case with last year’s charming Midnight in Paris. Now, however, the Woodman has gone back to phoning it in. His latest European travelogue, To Rome With Love, offers four tales of romance and fame, set in the Eternal City, which look like they were hastily jotted down on a napkin at a sidewalk café between glasses of vino.
As always, Allen has assembled an all-star cast to flesh out his thin material. The best of the four stories has Alec Baldwin as a vacationing American architect, wise in the ways of love, trying to forewarn a student (Jesse Eisenberg) who is about to have his heart broken by a flighty young actress (an excellent Ellen Page). The idea of a love triangle involving Eisenberg, Page, and Greta Gerwig as Eisenberg’s girlfriend—three smart, quirky actors—is genius. It makes you wish Allen had given them the whole movie.
Instead, he fills the other three-fourths with a couple of one-joke scenarios: A gifted tenor (Fabio Armiliato) who can only sing in the shower, an ordinary man (Roberto Benigni) who becomes unaccountably famous, and a creaky sex farce. The opera-singer skit is at least enlivened by Allen himself, doing his time-honoured neurotic shtick as an opera director, while Penélope Cruz reliably heats up the farce as a high-class hooker. But the Benigni piece, a Fellini-inspired satire of instant celebrity, falls flat. If Allen’s intention now is to make movies so light and inconsequential that you forget them as soon as you leave the theatre, then he’s succeeding admirably.