Two Cranky Guys Go to Rome With Woody Allen
Bruce Fretts: Once again, I’ve coaxed my Two Cranky Guys cohort Bret Watson out of his self-imposed semi-retirement, this time with the prospect of a trip to Italy—or at least To Rome, With Love. Woody Allen’s latest travelogue intercuts between five ostensibly comic stories set in the City of Fountains. The question is, Bret: Is it molto bene?
Bret Watson: He should’ve called it Arrividerci, Roma. I want to go into the fountain and take my coin back. As I said in the last half-hour, “Bruce, make it stop!”
Bruce: You’ve been to Rome, whereas I’ve only seen Roman Holiday. Did the movie represent the city in any way?
Bret: I expected the movie to be more picturesque. There are some nice scenes set outdoors, but so much of the action takes place indoors—in hotels and restaurants—so it could’ve been anywhere.
Bruce: My impression of the city from this movie is that Rome is very yellow. This is one of Woody’s yellow movies.
Bret: You’re just jaundiced. Maybe you should have that looked at. Unlike the movie, which no one should look at. I’m exaggerating. But we saw it in a theater on the Upper West Side where the audience’s age range was 60 to dead.
Bruce: The demographic went from Woody Allen to Larry King.
Bret: And they laughed a lot, but it seemed like a movie that would’ve been funnier if we’d seen it in the ’70s. That would’ve been the heyday of gags such as an opera singer who can only sing in the shower so when he appears onstage in an opera, he’s in a shower. And boy, was that bit wrung dry. So many of these stories seem like Woody Allen in the ’70s in the blender.
Bruce: They felt like Woody Allen short stories, like he did in the book Without Feathers. “The Man Who Could Only Sing in the Shower” would be funny for 3-5 pages, but stretched over an entire movie, it just drags out the joke. I’ve got bruises on my ribs for being repeatedly elbowed by the segment with Roberto Benigni, in which an average clerk becomes “famous for being famous” overnight. We get it! Woody’s commenting on the paparazzi and celebrity culture. In the La Dolce Vita era, that might’ve felt fresh, but in the Kardashian era, it’s just played out.
Bret: It’s supposed to be hilarious that he’s being interviewed about what he had for breakfast, but the intrusion of the media into an ordinary many’s life was funnier when Howard Cosell was interviewing Woody in bed after having sex in Bananas. And back then, it was only a two-minute bit.
Bruce: He uses these surreal touches, but they don’t entirely work. Like the Alec Baldwin character. He plays this aging architect…
Bret: He’s the Humphrey Bogart character in Play It Again, Sam—the guy that’s more like a ghost or a hallucination advising an amorous young male, played by Jesse Eisenberg—who kept sounding to me like that freakin’ parrot he voiced in that terrible animated movie Rio.
Bruce: Baldwin is an older version of Eisenberg, telling him what he’s getting himself into by falling for his girlfriend’s best friend. But sometimes only Eisenberg can hear him, and sometimes Ellen Page, who’s miscast as this crazily sexual actress, and the dreaded Greta Gerwig, who’s perfectly cast as his dishrag live-in girlfriend, can hear him, too. It felt sloppy. But I enjoyed Baldwin’s performance.
Bret: He was the best thing in the movie.
Bruce: Along with the red dress Penelope Cruz wore as a hooker. She should win an Oscar for Best Supported Actress.
Bret: Or the dress should win Best Support for an Actress.
Bruce: The movie starts and ends with a traffic cop, who sees everything in the city, as the narrator. But this movie needed a traffic cop to keep the stories moving.
Bret: It’s artificial. You get the feeling that Woody Allen’s main take on Rome is nobody knows where they’re going.
Bruce: There’s nothing connecting the stories, except a few themes, like mortality. Both Woody’s character, a retired music exec who discovers the opera-singing mortician, and Alec Baldwin’s character are facing the fact they haven’t accomplished what they wanted in their lives. But after this movie and that piece of pseudo-intellectual merde Midnight in Paris, maybe Woody should consider retirement.
Bret: Half the success of Midnight in Paris was the title.
Bruce: And he changed the title of this from Decameron Bop to To Rome, With Love. Woody often changes his titles—Annie Hall was going to be Anhedonia—but to ape the title of his last movie, just because it was a surprise box-office hit, feels like selling out. Guess those courtside Knicks tickets won’t pay for themselves.
Bret: Spoiler alert! In Baldwin’s last scene, Eisenberg accuses the architect of selling out for building shopping malls. And Baldwin’s reply is, “As a foolish man once said, ‘Stuff happens.'”
Bruce: Which is a good description of this movie: Stuff happens, and nobody cares.
Did you fall for To Rome, With Love? Post a comment—pronto!