Continuing on with his Grand Tour of the Continent, Woody should have skipped over the Eternal City — or at least given more thought to the script that uses Rome as a backdrop for this typical romp from the veteran director. “Match Point,” “Vicki Cristina Barcelona and “Midnight in Paris” were all superior to this effort, with “Paris” ranking as one of the biggest box office draws of Allen’s lengthy career.
In “Rome,” Allen’s style is evident with multiple, overlapping storylines, quirky banter and love in all the wrong and right places. Allen himself steps into this story for his first onscreen presence across the pond as a music promoter who discovers a wonderfully talented tenor literally singing in the shower; what develops from that is just too ridiculous. Skipping on, another story involves a chance encounter between a young man studying to be an architect (Jesse Eisenberg) and an established architect (Alex Baldwin) who appears at odd times as a kind of apparition to offer advice on his attraction to his girlfriend’s (a wasted Greta Gerwig) visiting best friend (Ellen Page), a hilariously neurotic actress.
Other plot points include a silly story with Italian actor Roberto Benigni as an ordinary man suddenly becoming the darling of the paparazzi simply because he isn’t anybody. As a commentary on society’s fascination with celebrity, this falls way short of the mark. Allen also pulls in one of his many muses, Penelope Cruz, as a prostitute subbing for a newlywed’s missing wife, who gets lost and stumbles into her own adventure.
For better or worse, this is vintage Allen, but fans might find it hard to stifle a yawn or two. This has a “been there, done that” vibe with the only difference being much of it is spoken in Italian. Arrivederci, “Rome.”
The winner of the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this is not just a movie — it is an experience, an immersion into a way of life that is almost indescribable … a primal poem that is as fascinating as it is unforgettable.
First time director Benh Zeitlin, working with a cast of non-actors, has managed to produce something truly extraordinary — not easy to do these days. The setting is the Bathtub, a remote area off the coast of New Orleans bound by levees and refineries. Its inhabitants are cut off by the marshes and waterways and exist hand to mouth, which seems impossible, yet draws them closer to nature.
Here Wink (Dwight Henry), a hard drinking, abusive man, lives with his young daughter, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), a fierce 6-year-old through whose eyes this magical story of a great storm and its aftermath is told.
Wallis (a 5-year-old at the time of the filming), one of thousands of children auditioned for the part, is a true find and carries the story on her small, amazing shoulders. Left largely alone, Hushpuppy constructs her own scenario for the way the world works and how she fits into it. These childlike impressions are remarkably articulate in their simplicity, not to mention accurate, and they give the story an innocence that only a child’s observations can provide, no matter how harsh the circumstances that soon become evident.
It’s rare these small, independent films live up to their hype. It can be a blessing and a curse to have the attention of a major film festival and the resulting publicity. Often they collapse under the expectations, but this is one that will hopefully flourish for its remarkable originality.