Inspired by Percy Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, legendary writer and director Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) coined the phrase ‘Ozymandias Melancholia’, to describe the melancholy notion that eventually, time kills everything.
Regrettably, the phrase uttered by two characters in his latest film, To Rome with Love, could be used to describe the sadness associated with the steady decline of the veteran filmmaker’s movie making skills.
Set in Rome, the film follows a number of Italian and American residents and tourists living, working and holidaying in the eternal city. In the latest of Allen’s picture postcard movies, Italian music and English subtitles overlay the beautiful scenery as their stories unfold.
In Allen’s first acting part in six years, he plays both protagonist and antagonist as avant-garde opera director Jerry. Unfortunately the 76 year old now embodies the nervy neurotic he became famous for portraying and his comic delivery suffers for it.
Judy Davis (Deconstructing Harry, Barton Fink) plays Jerry’s long suffering wife Phyllis as they visit their daughter Haley (Alison Pill) to meet her Italian beau Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). Following a get together with her boyfriend’s parents Jerry urges Michelangelo’s father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) to follow his dream.
These interdependent narratives are only three of many studies in Allen’s surreal treatise on fantasy and romance. Disappointingly, the movie frequently plays like a stream of consciousness burnt into celluloid and unsurprisingly the result is often random and incoherent.
A case in point is Alec Baldwin’s (Rock of Ages, The Departed) portrayal of John, a famous American architect, who goes in search his student digs in Rome. Baldwin looks uncomfortable in the role that quickly morphs into the inner voice of Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), an architect student currently living in Rome.
Eisenberg (The Social Network, Zombieland) has some fun with his role that resembles the younger Allen. Both goaded and cautioned by the ever present John, Jack becomes infatuated by fantasist Monica (Ellen Page) but at least Juno star Page manages to add a dynamism to a movie that is weighed down with too many ideas.
The sexual theme continues with an unusual Ménage à Cinq, following the introduction of sexy call girl Anna (Penélope Cruz) to newlyweds Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi). The brash prostitute’s unintentional intrusion then acts as a catalyst to the couple’s sexual awakening.
But the most interesting of the independent tales involve Roberto Benigni’s (Life is Beautiful) Leopoldo, an everyman thrown into the world of celebrity in most direct way. This parable focuses the question, what would happen if your fantasies become real?
These inventive stories are grounded in reality but often clash with their more outlandish premises, making it difficult to connect with, especially when they’re partitioned by unnecessary musical interludes.
Disappointingly, To Rome with Love, is a delightfully shot yet badly executed film. Die-hard Allen fans may not suffer from Ozymandias Melancholia, but their denial of the phenomenon would be a more compelling study on fantasy and romance.
To Rome With Love (cert 12A)