Trailer Trash: To Rome With Love
By Samuel Hoelker
July 10, 2012
Isn’t it the worst when you see a trailer for a movie that you’re looking forward to and it’s, well, a piece of crap? Sometimes it turns out that the movie is actually fantastic and just the victim of a bad trailer (such as Midnight in Paris), and sometimes that movie is just a flop (such as You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger). I’ll be saving you that risk from now on, as I’ll be checking out the films with the lousiest trailers and seeing whether it’s just poor editing that made the trailer terrible, or if no amount of editing could make it good. Today’s study: Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love.
The trailer begins with a traffic cop describing how he sees all the stories in Rome. Something tells me that’s not literally true. Then we hear the familiar voice of Woody Allen, who apparently is now only acting in his more mediocre-looking films, with Judy Davis giving him a put-down (only a 19 year age difference between them!). Then there’s Penelope Cruz, ostensibly a prostitute, who’s trying to get intimate with a man (but he’s nervous! He chokes on water! What a schlub!) And then more people: Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg meet and apparently Greta Gerwig makes great espresso (which makes you want to see the film, right?). She then talks for what seems like four hours about how great and sexy Ellen Page is, and she herself talks about when she slept with a woman. Wow! Edgy, right? Ripe for laughter.
Roberto Benigni comes in now, followed by paparazzi. Boy, is celebrity culture weird; they’re asking him what he had for breakfast! Then we see Woody Allen interacting with his daughter’s boyfriend, who likes unions. He’s uncomfortable with his potential in-laws, comparing them to lepers, which is quite topical. Both Roberto Benigni and Penelope Cruz come back, with celebrity and prostitute jokes (respectively) that I’m sure have been used in previous Woody Allen films before. Alec Baldwin interjects in a romantic moment between Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page, and apparently Alec Baldwin doesn’t understand women (wait, is he the Woody Allen character? But Woody Allen’s in this! So why are we getting such a moment about a character’s depth we’ve barely even experienced??) And then the title comes up, and we all groan, thinking about how the other 45 titles the film had were all much, much better than To Rome With Love.
I’m a pretty big Woody Allen fan. I’ll always give him a chance, and even if only a quarter of his films can be considered “good,” there’s always the hope that a surprise will come out of nowhere (somehow, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is good) or, at the very least, funny (Whatever Works is such a terrible story, but it’s probably his funniest movie of the 2000s). I’ll even put up with schlock like You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger because I know that the next year may bring a surprise. My expectations were pretty low for To Rome With Love, coming off of Midnight in Paris, and especially after seeing this godawful trailer. There’s so much going on in it (except for jokes), and it seems to have little reverence for Rome itself. Owen Wilson was in Paris for a reason. It appears that Jesse Eisenberg is in Rome because why not?
And that’s true with the film. Half of the vignettes have no real need to be in Rome, and the other half are about Italians who could very well be any other nationality. To Rome With Love reeks with convenience. It’s true that Woody Allen shot in Rome because they gave him money, but that’s why he’s been in Europe for five years anyway. I’m usually not a fan of fantasy because the worlds created can just have any rules the creator wants, and in my mind, To Rome With Love is no different.
That aside, To Rome With Love is very pleasant. What it lacks in necessity or, um, themes, it makes up in being perfectly affable. The large cast puts in great performances (this is the first time I’ve liked Ellen Page, like, ever), and it has the bits of surrealism that I always forget often permeate Woody Allen films. Alec Baldwin was one of the only good parts of Rock of Ages, and with that and this, I’d say he’s having a pretty good summer. It’s a little annoying that To Rome With Love has nothing new to say (even Midnight in Paris had a slight message), but as a somewhat funny film, it can be forgiven.
If only there were actual characters and plots to fill this pleasurable world. The Penelope Cruz plot (where she has to pretend to be the fellow’s wife for a day) could be solved with a simple line of dialogue, not mediocre slapstick. With the way Greta Gerwig dresses, no wonder Jesse Eisenberg wants to sleep with Ellen Page (sadly for Gerwig, that’s really all she has to do in the film – wear stupid clothing). The only real “plots” are Roberto Benigni’s overnight celebrity (hey, guess what? The media’s silly!) and Woody Allen putting on an opera that’s slightly goofy. Neither can fulfill a film, let alone a quarter of a film. As much as I’d like to say it’s nice to see Woody Allen acting again (and this is the second film in a row with Alison Pill), he’s not exactly pushing himself.
It’s nice to see that Woody Allen has pushed himself just about completely out of the awfulness of the mid 2000s (when Scoop is one of your best of that time…..), if this is the “par for the course” for his films now. It’s not an Allen Renaissance, but it’s perfectly okay. You’ll see it, forget about it, and that’s all it needs.