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Way back in the 1980s Cranky worked at a film studio in Astoria, Queens, New York City where Woody Allen was a virtual filmmaker-in-residence. Many days we would ride the studio's bus back and forth from Manhattan accompanying actors and tech specialists working on whatever Woody was doing at the time. As a critic, we've gotten used to the yearly releases of new movies and, looking at our general reactions over the years, leaving New York has been a really good move for the writer-director.
Working in the UK and in France the past several years has, at minimum, gotten Allen outside of the New York apartment locations he's been content to stay in. That change of location has inspired his writing. To Rome With Love, theoretically, could be placed in any urban location that has good tourist traffic -- you'll understand that bit of writing when you watch the film. The Roman setting, for whatever reason, has gotten the best there is to be gotten out of Mr. Allen this year and, at least as of June as we write . . .
IN SHORT: The Best predominantly Foreign Language film of the year. [Rated R for some sexual references. 102 minutes]
Yes, you read that correctly. To Rome With Love starts out in English but soon location wins out. By the time it is finished, the bulk of the film is in Italian, with subtitles. The film is such an enjoyable sit, that the subtitles doesn't get in the way.
It took many years for Woody Allen to develop from a three jokes a page comedian on film to a true auteur for the masses with at least a high school education. High school was different in those early days. Maybe you need a couple of years of college to get all the context, we've had a four and know we missed something so bad on us and don't worry about it. Allen has delivered his most accessible and most enjoyable film in a very long time.
Story one is in English, bringing you to a specific part of a specific Roman street where a young American found love (or something equally impressive) decades before. Now a full grown, successful architect, John (Alec Baldwin) has returned to Rome with girlfriend Carol (Carol Alt) in tow. At that "special site" John encounters Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and, after a bit of conversation involving the romantic properties of the location, Jack's girl Monica (Ellen Page) is added to the story. One couple becomes two and and fireworks fly. The good kind.
Story two is a take on the old "country folk in the big city" kind of tale. Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) and new hubby Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) come from country village to Roma seeking excitement and a new life, hopefully to be provided by Antonio's rich city cousins whom he has never met. Milly dashes out of their hotel to find a hairdresser prior to the big meet. Antonio responds to a knock on the door and is smothered by a breath-takiing AAA woman for hire called Anna (Penelope Cruz), who has been hired for the day to keep the man happy. Anna got the hotel room number wrong so, since she's "obligated" to spend the day and since Milly has not returned from the salon -- she has become hopelessly lost inthe city and has fallen into the clutches of the evil inhabitants of a working film set (!) -- Anna pretends to be the wife and story number two is off to the races. Said race nearly comes to a crashing halt when the newlywed hubby sees his beloved wife in an "intimate," yet very public, lunch with Italy's legendary film star Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese)
In American speak: Hubby sees wife with Italy's Tom Hanks. Only this "Tom" has never met a woman he hasn't slept with. So says his reputation. Of course, the hubby is dining with an A-list slut of his own, so, just let it all play out . . .
The topper, for us, is what happens to a nebbish called Leopoldo Pisanello (Roberto Benigni) who finishes breakfast, kisses the wife and kids goodbye and steps out of his perfect ordinary home into his perfectly ordinary life. What Leopoldo discovers is that it is paparazzi swarming season and that he is the target. The paparazzi and television press cover his every move. How he shaves. What he eats. Boxers or Briefs. Everything is fodder and as much as Leopoldo is annoyed by the attention, he gets used to it quickly and, dare we say, he comes to enjoy the notoriety that comes with his "fifteen minutes of fame."
But what of the legendary Allen? His story spreads across the others and while prettymuch unrelated, keeps everything on an even keel. Allen's character, a retired opera drector never had the one big hit or great discovery in his long career. While in Rome to meet the family his daughter is marrying into, he overhears his daughter's soon to be father-in-law, an undertaker named Giancarlo (Fabio Armilato), belting out opera standards in the shower. It is the discovery of a lifetime it is but there is one small problem. . . therein lies the best joke and I've done too much expository writing as it is.
That your eyes and brain have to do a bit of work once the film shifts into Italian, well, don't think too much about it. The shift comes so easily that we really didn't notice the extent until the film was done.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to To Rome With Love, he would have paid . . .
So what if the best Woody Allen film in years also happens to be subtitled! True, we don't cover a lot of foreign language films 'cuz you readers have shown no interest in such, outside of martial arts things. Pay attention to this one!
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