In England, Woody Allen found murderous intent behind the locals’ impeccable manners; in Spain, he responded to fiery passions; and in Paris, he basked in nostalgia for the city’s storied past. The latest stop on Allen’s Grand Tour is Italy, but this time all we get are a few pretty postcards with amusing sentiments inscribed on the back, as if he didn’t venture further than the Trevi Fountain before returning to his hotel room to watch Fellini films.
To Rome With Love interweaves four separate stories, each with its own Woody surrogate: Allen himself assumes the role of an opera director who discovers a prodigy who can sing only in the shower; Alec Baldwin meets a young man (Jesse Eisenberg) who reminds him of his younger self; Roberto Benigni plays an office drone who inexplicably becomes a paparazzi-pursued superstar; and Alessandro Tiberi is a young newlywed forced to pass off Penélope Cruz as his missing wife.
There’s not much to these stories beyond those slight summations; the Benigni episode is a trite satire on celebrity culture, while the Cruz segment is soufflé-light farce. The Eisenberg story is familiar territory, with neurotic twentysomethings seducing each other with talk of Rilke and Kierkegaard, but Allen increasingly seems to cast young people based on whoever came up last in his Netflix queue. Ellen Page is an odd choice for a femme fatale exuding an irresistible “sexual vibe,” a part for which frequent Woody muse Scarlett Johansson would have been better suited. The film feels like a sketchbook, with amusing premises padded out by so much doodling in the margins.