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My first reaction while watching To Rome With Love was one of disappointment.
My first reaction while watching To Rome With Love was one of disappointment. Not because I was expecting vintage Woody Allen. But because I was hoping that this latest tryst with a European city would yield the kind of Woody-ness his best films have had in abundance. What this Roman Holiday gives us is a Woody back in the frame (his last appearance in one of his movies was in 2006), and the sort of omnibus-spectrum he's been dabbling with: men, women, relationships, quirkiness, getting older, getting wiser (maybe), and the way fame can take you over and make you over and leave you to hang out and dry once it flees.
These are themes that have been the mainstay in Woody Allen's body of work, astonishing for its prolific nature and the way he's managed to stay with the plan. He wrote his first film in 1965. And he's still at it, about the only American filmmaker of his vintage who can safely be called an auteur, making almost one film a year and mining love and death and everything in between. His hair is now silver and sparse from being gingery and tufty-over-the-ears, but his subjects have remained the same, the grand themes that impact life. The little subplots that liven his movies come out of these. But his last few cinematic expressions have been beset by a laziness, a lack of tightness, and a kind of vacuousness, all of which conspire to create fleeting loveliness instead of lasting greatness.
His last outing, Midnight in Paris, was a spectacular looking film with spectacular lookers in it. The central conceit, of a screenplay writer in love with Paris and its great artists and litterateurs, is wonderful. I would happily pay to watch just the opening credits which make love to a city that epitomises romance and rain-soaked streets and misty lamp-lights. Before Paris, Woody was floating about Barcelona (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), getting one of the most mouth-watering couples in the movie business to cosy up. I can't quite make up my mind who is more delicious, Javier Bardem or Penelope Cruz. But once I stop slavering, I'm left asking that question: this is great but where's the rest of it?