FILM: To Rome With Love
ALTHOUGH descriptive of its intent, To Rome With Love is a rather lame title for Woody Allen’s latest foray into Europe. It also serves to lower expectations, thereby making its entertainment level as surprising as it is welcome.
Allen’s celebration of the Eternal City consists of unconnected stories, each of which evolves in its own time frame, the effect being a multi-ring circus that Federico Fellini, a favourite of Allen’s, would have appreciated.
One tale is a biting attack on the worst of reality TV, with Roberto Benigni playing a nonentity who becomes a celebrity whose every word and deed is chronicled. Another narrative strand concerns Allen as Jerry, who arrives in town with Phyllis (Judy Davis), his wife, to meet Flavio, a leftish lawyer, who is engaged to Hayley (Allison Pill), their daughter. Although Jerry might not agree with Flavio’s politics, he is deeply impressed by his father, who has a terrific voice, albeit one with certain limitations that only an innovative opera producer could think of accommodating.
Then there is a newlywed couple whose plans go awry. They get separated and he has to pretend that Anna (Penelope Cruz), a prostitute, is his wife while his bride falls for the faded charm of an unprepossessing matinee idol still confident that he is irresistible. The main thread in Allen’s tapestry has Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) meeting John (Alec Baldwin), who gives this younger version of himself advice about his relationship with his girlfriend and the danger posed to their relationship by Monica (Ellen Page), a pretentious would-be actress. John, who hangs around as a mixture of Greek chorus and mentoring conscience, adds a playful touch of surrealism.
If there is a unifying theme to the disparate plots, it would probably be to find the courage to seize opportunities, and holding everything together is Allen’s wry wit. There is mirth in the meanderings and the various episodes combine to form a highly enjoyable movie that is greater than the sum of its sketchy parts.
TED is an offensive fantasy about John (Mark Wahlberg) who, as a lonely, bullied boy, wished that his teddy bear would come to life and become his friend.
Miraculously, this transformation comes to be and the toy achieves a measure of celebrity but, years later, it is still around and trying the patience of Lori (Mila Kunis), John’s girlfriend.
The problem is that Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) is a dirty-minded, homophobic, foul-mouthed, drug-taking drunk.
MacFarlane has made a name for himself with a couple of ribald, tasteless TV shows (Family Guy and American Dad).
However, what might be acceptable for 30 minutes becomes tedious as rude turns to crude in both words and deeds.
Replete with references to pop culture and verbal assaults on personalities and films MacFarlane mistakenly believes are inferior to his own tawdry efforts, his movie also has sadistic fun at the expense of Sam J Jones, who had the misfortune to be cast as Flash Gordon in a 1980 film John and Ted remember fondly.
It takes rather more than a willingness to appreciate silliness to find any redeeming features in an enterprise so devoted to outrageous behaviour in a toy usually considered a comforting, often lifelong companion. But here it is made unbearable, even if some of the coarse humour is very funny.
GIVEN that its subject is the unstoppable annihilation of Earth, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is far more gentle and even life-affirming than might be thought. The central figure is Dodge (Steve Carell), whose wife left him to search for greener pastures while they still exist. An asteroid is due to crash soon and many are going wild, but Dodge, a dull nonentity, wants to find his first sweetheart.
Penny (Keira Knightley), a neighbour, joins him in escaping from the city, her wish being able to fly back to England to spend the last days with her parents.
The plot is minimalistic and, naturally, there are traces of poignancy and melancholia to the pair’s fate, but what might have been a gloomy study of people in extremis is relieved by dark humour as Dodge and Penny settle for mutually supportive companionship without resorting to the conventions of romantic comedy.
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