(Jesse Eisenberg), whom we younger version of himself.
And so it goes on. Jack introduces John to his girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig), who is awaiting the arrival from the States of her friend Monica (Ellen Page), a fey actress with intellectual pretensions and, for me, the film’s funniest character. Allen delights in sending up pseudo-intellectuals (see Midnight in Paris) and has great fun with Monica, whose favourite architect is Howard Roark, the hero of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead. Monica has a smart line for every conversation, but is never quite sure what they mean. In this company Baldwin’s character becomes a kind of narrator, drifting in and out of scenes to philosophise or pontificate or offer advice when emotional complications threaten to get the better of people. But is John is a real person or a figment of Jack’s conflicted psyche?
Then there’s Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), a suburban office worker who leaves home one morning to find himself besieged, for no apparent reason, by the paparazzi. Interviewers ply him with banal questions and are satisfied with equally banal replies. Bewildered at first, Leopoldo begins to relish this sudden adulation, until the day comes (quite soon) when the media lose interest in him and turn their attention, on an equally random impulse, to another nonentity, leaving Leopoldo to resume his former dull but contented existence.
The evanescent and meretricious nature of celebrity is beautifully satirised by Allen, who is of course no stranger to fame himself. And there is a nice irony in the thought that Benigni was once the centre of media attention when he clambered over seats to claim the best
a foreign film Oscar for Life Is Beautiful (in 1999). It occurred to me that none of Allen’s pictures has ever won a best picture Oscar, and that Woody must be keenly aware of it.
Penelope Cruz provides a lustrous presence as a callgirl persuaded to masquerade as the wife of a newlywed from the provinces while the real wife, lost in the streets of Rome, finds herself seduced by a movie star (Antonio Albanese).
These and other playful diversions are all lightly sketched and spiced with Allen’s usual quota of witty lines. But nothing beats that old Flintstones joke. Michelangelo’s dad, Giancarlo, is an undertaker, a suitably solemn character who reveals a hidden talent when singing under the shower. On hearing him, Jerry persuades him to take an audition, sensing a possible revival of his own career. We all sound good singing under the shower — provided no one else can hear us — and that’s the beauty of the joke. When Giancarlo is wheeled on to an opera house stage to sing some lusty aria while soaping himself behind a mobile shower screen, it’s a reflection of all our wish-fulfilling fantasies, tribute to our narcissism.
To Rome with Love has corny bits, moments of silly farce, but Allen’s touch is as sparkling as ever. Behind the humour is a lingering mood of regret, almost of sadness. It’s not one of Woody’s great films but it’s constantly enjoyable. One can only hope he will go on making more, and that one day, perhaps, he will win that best picture Oscar he surely deserves.
Ellen Page and Jesse Eisenberg in