Who better to introduce us to these tales of Rome than a Roman traffic cop, who sees plenty of what plays out around the Italian capital? To begin, there's Hayley (Alison Pill), an American tourist there who is asking for directions. In a fairy tale romance of developments, the young man she asks, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), was good enough to show her around, one thing led to another and now they're engaged to be married, though Hayley's parents Jerry (Woody Allen) and Phyllis (Judy Davis) have never been to Rome and her father especially is feeling great trepidation...
To Rome with Love was one of director Allen's late career international co-productions, where he was courted by certain countries wishing to have a legendary moviemaker create a little bit of magic in their territories, or that was the idea at any rate. He had already made a few in Britain, but his biggest European success had been Midnight in Paris immediately prior to this which was one of his regular efforts where audiences would stop saying, hey, he's no fun anymore and remember what it was they liked about him when he conjured up a work of quality. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, his Spanish entry into this cycle, had been one of those too.
But was his Italian entry? Opinions were divided, but the consensus seemed to be he was back to being average after the previous gem, though this was perhaps unfair, as it was chiefly the way that this film was light and fluffy rather than containing any great resonance that condemned it in the minds of the more critical viewers. He undoubtedly secured one of his starriest casts, as evidently there was still plenty of prestige for an actor to be associated with an Allen movie, and that this took the form of four intertwined plots meant he could get more stars in and we could enjoy the company of a bunch of established talents and promising younger performers.
Each of the quartet was a comedy of sorts, though some more romantic than others, as the segment where Allen took a role was the most ridiculous and truest to his roots as a comedian: basically he overhears Michelangelo's father (Fabio Armiliato) singing opera powerfully in the shower and thinks he can recharge his music industry job he is now retired from and missing terribly. Unfortunately the dad can only belt out the tunes like that in the shower, so what can be done? The solution is pleasingly daft, a nice return to the Allen silliness which he neglected once he decided that we had to take him very seriously. Elsewhere, there was more evidence of that sensibility when prostitute Penélope Cruz ends up in the wrong hotel room.
Which means the occupant (Alessandro Tiberi) has to pass her off as his wife (Alessandro Mastonardi) who remains lost in Rome and has an adventure of her own in a plot which appears to be an endorsement of extramarital flings. Then there's Alec Baldwin as a vacationing architect who becomes a sort of sardonic, wise after the fact Jiminy Cricket to Jesse Eisenberg's architecture student, not giving him advice on his studies but on his love life and how he shouldn't cheat on his girlfriend Greta Gerwig with comically irresistable Ellen Page, where cheating on your partner isn't worth it. Lastly, Roberto Benigni is an ordinary clerk and family man who inexplicably becomes a celebrity in a part which strains to be wacky but has a certain grumpiness to its theme of undeserved fame, though the star sells it to an extent. The Baldwin section apart, To Rome with Love kept it light as a feather, or that appeared to be the intention, though Allen's intellectual barbs were in evidence; not classic, but he'd done worse.
American writer/director/actor and one of the most distinctive talents in American film-making over the last three decades. Allen's successful early career as a stand-up comedian led him to start his directing life with a series of madcap, scattershot comedies that included Bananas, Sleeper and Love and Death. 1975's Oscar-winning Annie Hall was his first attempt to weave drama and comedy together, while 1979's Manhattan is considered by many critics to be Allen's masterpiece.
The 90s saw Allen keep up his one-film-a-year work-rate, the most notable being the fraught Husbands and Wives, gangster period piece Bullets Over Broadway, the savagely funny Deconstructing Harry and the under-rated Sweet and Lowdown. After a run of slight, average comedies, Allen returned to more ambitious territory with the split-story Melinda and Melinda, the dark London-set drama Match Point, romantic drama Vicky Cristina Barcelona, one of many of his films which won acting Oscars, and the unexpected late-on hits Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine. In any case, he remains an intelligent, always entertaining film-maker with an amazing back catalogue.