Writer-director Woody Allen, 76, is coming off one of his most successful runs: Hits like 2008's Vicky Cristina Barcelona and his highest-grossing film ever, 2011's Midnight in Paris — which were both released in the summer — have turned the Woody Allen comedy into an unlikely summer event. His late-career victory lap may continue with To Rome With Love, a series of vignettes about the romantic misadventures of a group of characters in the Italian city, out June 22. The "delightful" trailer for the film was just released. (Watch it below.) The movie features Allen's first acting turn since 2006, and also stars Jesse Eisenberg, Penelope Cruz, Ellen Page, and Judy Davis, among others. Here, five things critics are buzzing about:
1. It's trademark Woody Allen
This is unquestionably a "dyed-in-the-wool Woody Allen movie," says Lanford Beard at Entertainment Weekly. It's a love letter to a romantic city — a la Annie Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Midnight in Paris. The cast is an all-star roster of past collaborators — including Barcelona's Cruz and Husbands and Wives' Davis. The dialogue is cheeky and rapid-fire. It's all identifiably Woody: "If you generally enjoy watching Allen's comical contemporary yarns about the messy lives of dysfunctional people... set against scenic European backdrops and locales," then this movie is for you, says Sandy Schaefer at Screen Rant. "All others need not apply."
2. Which means it's flawed by Woody's tendency to objectify women
To Rome also features another very Allen element, says Beard: "Saucy women as objects of fascination-slash-titillation." The characters played by Cruz and Ellen Page seem to be the chief culprits. "The intriguingly sexual and mysterious woman is a stock figure" in Woody's movies and also a common flaw, says David Haglund at Slate. Judging by these early glimpses of Cruz's prostitute character, To Rome With Love will unfortunately follow suit.
3. Allen is back in front of the camera
This is Allen's first on-screen appearance since 2006's misfire Scoop. "He's reassuringly quick with the one-liners," says Ben Child at the U.K.'s Guardian. The line, "The kid's a communist, the father's a mortician... does the mother run a leper colony?" seems like it could "easily have slipped from the sassy yet curmudgeonly lips of Annie Hall's Alvy Singer." It's also fun to watch him concede the self-deprecating hero role to Jesse Eisenberg, says Leah Beckman at Gawker. He's still got his "neurotic, tottering jokes," but now they're cracked from the background where he plays the lovable "father/grandfather figure."
4. The comedy's on-point "if slight"
The dialogue is intelligent and hilarious, if not laugh-out-loud funny, says Beard. The best exchange comes in a scene between Davis and Allen himself. Allen: "I've got a 150, 160 IQ." Davis: "You're figuring it in Euros. In dollars, it's much less." There are echoes of "the light fluffiness that made Midnight in Paris such a delight to behold, says Kate Erbland at Film School Rejects. Still, his recent films, To Rome included, have suffered from being a tad too thin, says Haglund. Midnight in Paris was "charming, if slight." Match Point, "engaging, if slight." Barcelona, "fun, if slight." As the critic Richard Brody has said, "the great writer-director is basically sketching at this point."
5. Roberto Benigni's back
Since memorably winning 1998's Best Actor Oscar for his film Life Is Beautiful, and delivering an effusive acceptance speech, Roberto Benigni has appeared in just one other major American release, 2002's disastrous Pinocchio, which scored an astonishing 0 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. He returns here in what looks to be To Rome With Love's "most absurd story line," says Sarah Anne Hughes at The Washington Post, as an Italian man who becomes instantly famous for reasons that aren't made clear. It's a strange part, but it looks like Benigni nails it. "Simply perfetto."