Woody Allen’s latest film is a worse version of his best ensemble comedies, featuring Allen in one of many separate but overlapping storylines in a city he loves to death. This time, Rome has the spotlight. But so does culture clash. Besides being a love letter to an enchanting tourist destination, one of the threads of To Rome, With Love is an appreciation of the tenuous kinship between Jews and Italians.
Here’s that particular thread’s scenario: A cute blond shiksa traveling in Rome for the summer falls in love with a sexy, brainy, proletarian Italian dude. Pretty soon, they’re engaged. And surprise! The blond isn’t a shiksa at all; she’s a spawn of two neurotic, Jewish urban dwellers: Woody Allen, a retired opera director, and his psychoanalyst wife (Judy Davis). There’s some friction between Allen’s cautious liberalism and the fiance’s righteous but naïve Communist spirit. But then Allen happens to notice that his daughter’s future father-in-law, Giancarlo, has a beautiful, transcendent voice worthy of Verdi (but only in the shower), so he badgers him to become a late-career opera singer. With Allen as his manager, of course.
The familiar setup bows under the weight of uncomfortable stereotypes—the romantic, sensual Italian and the pushy, control-freak Jew—but eventually, everything works out fine. Allen’s protégé ends up singing onstage in a shower stall and gets a standing ovation, and the floundering, unsexy Jew can live vicariously through an Italian who transcends all neuroses with his naturally artistic impulses. And because, deep down, the Jews and the Italians understand each other.
The story has tinges of antagonism, but mostly it displays Allen’s grass-is-always-greener affection for a culture that, in the U.S. at least, has been intertwined one way or another for centuries with Jews, especially in Allen’s hometown of New York. They often live in the same ethnic enclaves. They play each other in movies. They even share a genetic link. And in Woody Allen’s fantasy world, they can play beautiful music together, even if they fight sometimes.