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Jefferson Root Written by Jefferson Root
Jun. 15, 2012 | 12:44 AM

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LA Film Festival Review: TO ROME WITH LOVE

After the record breaking business of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, Woody Allen’s previous film, it’s hard to underestimate what a coup it was for the Los Angeles Film Festival to land the director’s latest, TO ROME WITH LOVE.  LAFF has always tried to straddle the line between movie star glitz and indie cred, and Allen at the peak of his form has often represented the best of both.  TO ROME WITH LOVE keeps up Allen’s tradition of pairing old style big screen glamour (Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin) with a who’s who of young talent (Allison Pill, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig).

Of course, the biggest star at last night’s screening was the Woodman himself.  Charming and self-deprecating, Allen came out to introduce the film and the cast members in attendance, which included Italian cast members Alessandra Mastronardi and Simona Caparrini as well as Cruz, Gerwig and Pill.  Allen also acknowledged that there was no guarantee audiences would connect with his latest movie just because he had a great time making it. Still, he encouraged those who liked the film to encourage distributor Sony Pictures Classics not to “put the film in the witness protection program.”

Which brings us to the movie itself.  While TO ROME WITH LOVE certainly doesn’t deserve to be forced into hiding, it also doesn’t quite rank with Allen’s best work.  The movie is offen charming, but it represents Allen at his least ambitious.  This may not matter for someone who has been cranking out a feature a year for 40 plus years, but when you set the bar high, audiences expect you to deliver.

As its title would suggest, TO ROME WITH LOVE is much more interested in the stories of its Italian natives than their American tourist counterparts.  An Allen film may be one of the most coveted resume bullets in the biz, but Allison Pill and Greta Gerwig have found better roles in other recent films, and Baldwin and Eisenberg, though enjoyable, are not bringing much to the table that we haven’t seen before.

The good news is that the Italian characters in the film are utterly charming and make up the bulk of TO ROME WITH LOVE’s screen time,  A young couple moving to Rome to try to move up in society instead find themselves wrapped up in an intrigue of mistaken identity and adultery.  We’re treated to Allen’s character’s attempts to make a star out of an golden voiced opera singer who can only perform in the shower.  Even better, we get Roberto Benigni dodging the Italian paparazzi once they decide his character’s so boring that he’s a perfect choice to become their new celebrity.

If it’s about anything other than the Eternal City (beautifully shot by Darius Khondji), TO ROME WITH LOVE wants us to think, if only a little bit, about the perils and pleasures of being famous.  Most of the characters here are obsessed with the limelight in some capacity, whether its falling into bed with an Italian movie star or trying to figure out why a famous architect suddenly decided to draw up plans for shopping malls. 

Baldwin being Baldwin, Benigni in top form, and Allen trading zingers with Judy Davis are reasons enough to see this movie.  It may meander a little, but it also represents another breezy entry in Allen’s “let’s go shoot in the great capitols of Europe” period.  A perfect choice as this year’s fest opener, it also feels like a great way to kick off the summer.

TO ROME WITH LOVE opens in limited release on June 22nd.

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