Back in 2011; a screenwriter named Gil Pander traveled back in time to the roaring 1920s of Paris, and mingled with literary greats in nostalgic fantasy Midnight In Paris. Last year, an entourage of whimsical characters plucked from the same vivid imagination made their way to Rome. And therein lies the structural spine of Woody Allen’s latest film, To Rome With Love.
Four stories unfold simultaneously in this romantic comedy: a mortician discovers his vocal talent in the bathroom, a pair of newlywed’s find themselves entangled in sexual exploits, a young architect is tempted by his SO’s salacious friend, an office clerk awakens to find himself catapulted to overnight fame.
In one particular vignette; American girl next door Hayley spends her summer holiday in Rome and falls in love with lawyer, Michelangelo, in a typical tourist-meets-local encounter. The couple’s spur of the moment decision to wed brings forth the arrival of Hayley’s retired parents, Jerry and Phyllis—a cynical opera director and his incisive psychiatrist wife.
During a get-together hosted by the Italians; Jerry discovers that Michel’s father, Giancarlo, possesses a soprano voice fit to sing Pagliacci in the Vienna Opera House. Plausibly driven by resentment towards retirement—Jerry promptly takes it upon himself to unveil this extraordinary find… to the rest of the musical world.
At one point; after Carlo’s live performance involving stage lighting and a shower box, Jerry muses that he is one to “think outside the box”. To which Phyllis tiredly laments, “You equate retirement with death. Giancarlo is an undertaker. He puts people in boxes and you want to think outside the box.”
Classical plot structures often take the form of a journey, an escape or a search. With regards to this virtuoso of expressive cinema; Woody Allen’s Jerry is fleeing from an invisible, allegorical enemy. Subject matters of doomed love, sex and death have always been dominant themes in Allen’s works; provoking the kind of painfully self-aware and deadpan humor unique to his stylistic neurosis. To Rome With Love is no different from those pieces. And audiences familiar with the menagerie of characters as real as Allen’s dramatic concerns will delight in this film.
It has been many years since Woody Allen graced the silver screen — that our favorite skeptic exits hiatus in his forty-fourth feature is a moment to be relished by fans.