Woody Allen is the consummate master of creating art that imitates life. Crimes and Misdemeanors was one of many films he wrote and directed that brilliantly explores how sometimes extreme pathology has no consequence. Considering Allen's marriage to his former step-daughter, his films about crimes without consequence are fascinating. In film after film, Allen captivates us with his ability to explore the dark sides of psychology and human nature. Frequently, Allen seems to play himself -- a neurotic, annoying, funny, oblivious creature who makes us cringe as he embarrasses, hurts and humiliates others through his outrageous actions and his thoughtless words.
To Rome with Love is no exception. The film explores, somewhat hilariously, the absurdity of our worldwide obsession with celebrity. With Rome as a gorgeous backdrop, the paparazzi ambushes randomly famous men of the moment and asks pointless questions such as: "How do you scratch your head? With one hand or two? Do you use starch? Light or heavy? How do you like your toast?" Here, Allen's message is powerful and clear: we are a society of fools to care about such nonsense.
To Rome with Love also insightfully and hysterically explores retirement and fear of death. Woody Allen plays Jerry, a recently retired music promoter who never achieved the professional success he desired. Jerry is so miserable about retiring that he makes one last stab at professional success and stages an opera in which he convinces a Roman mortician Giancarlo (his daughter's fiancee's father played by real-life operatic tenor Fabio Armiliato) to sing opera naked in the shower. (No, I am not kidding!) The audience is swept away, watching in tears and standing in ovation. Again, the message is clear: we remain a society of overly-impressionable, ignorant fools.
I wonder if, on some level, Allen is also implying that To Rome with Love viewers are equally foolish. The elaborate opera with the naked tenor singing in the shower may be a metaphor for the outrageousness of the film itself and our desire to watch it.
Of the film's many absurd story lines, the most odd is Alec Baldwin's role as John, a semi-protagonist who spends the film roaming the Roman streets, attempting to re-visit his past. We never learn much about why, and so we can assume that John is really the young architect Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) as reality and fantasy blur in John and Jack's confusing but entertaining relationship.
Given his recent preference for filming in Europe instead of Manhattan, perhaps Allen is saying that he is enjoying his semi-retirement in Europe, he does not have much left to say, but he knows we are all going to flock to his films anyway because he is Woody Allen, so what's the difference.