09 July 2012

Rome, The Absurd City

To Rome With Love is easily Woody Allen's most uproarious film since Deconstructing Harry
Introduced by a working traffic cop/raconteur, four interspersed -- but not intersecting -- sketches provide a peek into the wild possibilities of the "Eternal City."  The farce that ensues is equal parts Shakespeare and Fellini, tied together by Allen's weightless style.  

Each vignette is imbued with an element of the supernatural or absurd.  Jerry (Woody Allen) is a retired avant-garde opera manager who comes to Rome to meet his daughter's Italian fiancé and his family.  When the future groom's undertaker father begins singing magnificently in the shower, Jerry pounces on his chance to get back in the opera game.  The only catch is, the father (renowned tenor Fabio Armiliato) can only sing in the shower. The gag avoids getting stale, and, in fact, culminates in a most hysterical staging of Pagliacci.

Equally outrageous is the phantasmal story of Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), a young architecture student living in Rome with his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig), who happens upon the renowned architect, reduced to designing shopping malls, John (Alec Baldwin).  John becomes Jack's ghostlike confidante and guide, longingly walking him through the tumult that results when Sally (Ellen Page), the girlfriend's best friend, crashes into their lives with her histrionic, failed actress, pseudo-intellectual, sexual energy.  Baldwin's Jack is an apparition savvy to all the seductress' moves, yet clearly still eager to be vicariously victimized. 

Two Italian language vignettes perpetuate the farce, as Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) is an average family man and bureaucratic clerk who suddenly, and most nonsensically, becomes the object of the media's lust. The scenes of paparazzi obsession ("Leopoldo, when your head itches, which hand do you use to scratch it?") are like watching Fellini direct from beyond the grave. As always, Benigni crafts the most mundane tasks, like waking up and turning off an alarm clock, into inexplicable hilarity. 

Finally, Anna, a prostitute, as stunning as she is uncouth, is played by Penélope Cruz, whose comedic talents flourish under Allen's lens as brilliantly as her dramatic ones do under Almodóvar's. Anna inadvertently gets sucked into a role of posing as the young wife for a newlywed, Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi), who must impress his big-city industrious uncles in order to secure his financial future.  When the party visits the Sistine Chapel, someone remarks on the breathtaking ceiling art, and rhetorically asks, "Can you imagine working all day on your back?" the response from Anna isn't hard to imagine.

Allen's strongest comedic work actualizes when he unleashes his inhibitions and indulges his farcical roots.  In To Rome With Love, Allen expertly combines the zaniness of his early work like Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Afraid to Ask, with the smooth professionalism of his later work. The product is a hysterical, fast-paced, outlandish gem of a comedy. Now back to that production of Pagliacci...