It's a star-studded rom-com with various subplots that, well, just end up turning into a mess, so I guess this is pretty much Woody Allen's Garry Marshall anthology film, or at least evidence that Garry Marshall is making so much progress in his effort to be the other Woody Allen, with a fair couple of twists, that he took from this film's kind of story structure idea two years before Allen even explored it. No, this film isn't entirely like "Valentine's Day" or something like that, as sure as Marshall's and Allen's other films stand to a parallel a bit more, but make no mistake, if one of them doesn't die, then it's only a matter of time before Marshall and Allen just start ripping each other off, because they're both New Yorkers, with one being Jewish and another being Italian, and the distinguishing line between New York Jew and New York Italian getting to be thinner and thinner with, well, each new Garry Marshall or Woody Allen film. At the very least, this film does a number on the line in question, because Allen has just gone ahead and hopped his Jewish self on over to Italy from France as he continues his conquest of Europe. Look out, Germans, because Allen is so ready to make his big Jewish revenge epic (It's going to be so weird, but so awesome) that he appears to be slam-banging passion projects into messy anthologies like this one. No, people, this film isn't quite as sloppy as they said, but seriously, the only thing more confusing than this film's anthological plot structure is Roger Ebert's description of this film as something called magical realist (What magic?)..., and, of course, the differences between New York Jews and New York Italians. This film certainly does help with the Jew/Italian confusion, because we're looking at Jesse Eisen[u]berg[/u] and Woody Allen showing up in Italy, probaby trying to convert them into New Yorkers, and just for good measure, Allen tossed in Penélope Cruz, in all of her Spanish glory, as an Italian, just to further confuse you. Ah, it's all too much for my ignorant American brain ("You mean Alabamian brain"; shut up, yankees!), but hey, at least it all makes for a decent film, even if this decent film goes held back by more than a few sloppy factors.
A collection of four different storylines that don't really connect, this film could have been more all over the place in its focus, but there really is only so much you can do to make a consistently comfortable anthology of this type, and as sure as sunshine, after a while, unevenness claims the film's focus and dilutes your investment, not to the degree I was fearing, but to an undeniable degree, nonetheless. Still, if nothing else is consistent, then it's, well, the usage of The Starlight Orchestra's "Amada Mia, Amore Mio" as transition music that's initially cute, but gets to be a bit annoying after a while, as well as conventionalism, which isn't so immense that the film comes out all that terribly trite, but still drives the film into quite a few formulas, both those established by other films of nature, and those established by other Woody Allen films, particularly Allen's other filler flicks. Tropes trail this film's storytelling, never to catch their prey so firmly that the final product comes out startlingly generic, but still catch up time and again to soften plot's impact, which was never to be too strong, as no branch from this tree of tales is all that meaty, boasting superficiality that gives you a chance to further meditate upon this film's missteps, and is made all the worse by exposition issues with each subplot that further loosen your full grip on this film's stories and characters. The film doesn't take too much time to absorb the full range of its characterization, - which shouldn't be too deep, seeing as how there's not much meat to any of this film's stories, but stands to associate you a bit more with this film's plot elements - but certainly makes room for overlong dialogue pieces that may be clever and all, seeing as how, come on, they're the fruits of writing efforts by Woody Allen, but get to be near-exhaustingly excessive, to the point of blanding things up, or rather, supplementing already fairly well-established blandness. Whether it be because of the occasional dry spell or simply Woody Allen's putting only so much effort into compensating for this film's story thinness, the film slows down more than it should, being rarely, if ever dull, but limp enough in kick for you to progressively grow more and more aware of this film's being, well, kind of aimless. The stories' conclusions prove to be about as underwhelming, so I'm not asking that the build-up to this film's ending be booming, but the road to underwhelming finales wanders along with limited direction, limited evenness and altogether limited meat, until you are ultimately left with a final product that is, on the whole, underwhelming. Still, just because the road that is this film is bumpy, that doesn't mean that you can't still enjoy yourself, because as underwhelming as this film is, it entertains adequately, catching your attention with quite a bit of charm, or at least a reasonable bit of handsomeness.
Relatively fresh off of the set of Woody Allen's last and certainly superior European opus, "Midnight in Paris", cinematography Darius Khondji is called in to deliver on more fine photographic touches that help in bringing Woody Allen's somewhat distinct style to life, and does just that, bringing handsomely warm coloring and lighting, while playing with scope in a unique fashion that comfortably focuses on the center of set pieces, while giving you a chance to take in the film's environment. Khondji's clever photographic touches firmly remind you that environment drives this film as much as characters, and that is certainly a good thing, especially when you take into consideration that the envionment we're talking about here is Rome, Italy, y'all, a famously fine testament to the beauty of European culture, and one that is explored in this film very well by Woody Allen's direction, which presents Rome's dynamic color elegantly and charmingly, to where most every location catches your aesthetic eye and adds to the liveliness of this film's atmosphere. Aesthetically, this film is undeniably pretty strong, being not necessarily a lavish masterpiece of immersive locale exploration, but almost as much, if not just as much of a handsomely stylish celebration of European culture as "Midnight in Paris", a film that, in most every other way, outdoes this film. The film doesn't exactly make for the most satisfying follow-up to Allen's acclaimed previous effort, which I actually wasn't too terribly crazy about, but found to be genuinely rewarding, as opposed to this film, which is too messy for its own good, though not so much so that it's hard to deny that this film boasts quite a bit of color, even in the story structuring departments, because as thin, familiar and all around messily handled as each one of these stories are, they are, at least conceptually, adequately fun, and brought to life reasonably well by what Allen does do right, at least as screenwriter. Sure, this film sometimes goes a bit too far - to a somewhat farfetched point - with its wit, though not as much as certain pieces of satire and exaggerated character behavior, but come on, we're still talking about Woody Allen, whose script for this film is anything but considerably comfortable, but still delivers on quite a bit of clever dialogue and amusing humor that soften the blow of the film's excessive talkativeness through liveliness, while, albeit a bit too thin, but nevertheless colorful characterization does a decent job of drawing charm from this film's stories and characters, who are further brought to life by a very charismatic cast. Sure, this film doesn't quite have the strong acting ability that was found in some members of the cast of "Midnight in Paris", which, even then, was still too light to provide all that much acting material (If he had more than one scene, Adrien Brody would have most likely gotten my pick for best supporting actor of 2011, he was so awesome in his Dalí-cious rhinocery), but this film's hefty cast of charmers do what they do best: charm, and whether it be Woody Allen himself, making a very enjoyable acting comeback, or, well, anyone else, from Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page and Alec Baldwin, to the unevenly used Penélope Cruz, everyone, to one degree or another, sells you on his or her character charmingly. There are so many flaws to this film, and it is too thin to make up for its mistakes, but regardless of this, there are still a fair deal of strengths, and enough of them to make the final product, if nothing else, reasonably entertaining, in spite of its shortcomings.
Nel complesso, focal unevenness and conventionalism at least allow you to meditate upon this film's stories' being a bit too thin for their own good, with enough underdevelopment, dragging and bland aimlessness to keep you from getting too invested, and make an underwhelming final product, though not too weak of one, because with all of its unfortunate shortcomings, this film accels aesthetically, with fine cinematography that compliments lovely locations, while delivering on enough clever dialogue and characterization - brought to life by across-the-board charismatic performances within this film's colorful cast of talents - to form the undeniable charm and reasonable entertainment value that makes "To Rome with Love" an enjoyable anthological opus, underwhelming though, it may be.
2.5/5 - Fair