There are a lot of things wrong with Woody Allen‘s latest movie. To Rome With Love is a series of vignettes set in Rome that deal in magical realism, escapism and broad stereotypes. But the biggest misstep might be casting Ellen Page as a femme fatale who steals Jesse Eisenberg from Greta Gerwig. Who let Woody Allen do that?
The almost 80-year old director is still making about one movie a year. He’s had a long career, and while his movies aren’t consistent box office hits, he’s been averaging one good film for every two misses lately. And considering his reputation, actors in Hollywood are often lining up to work for him for next to no money. This can work to their benefit. But often it does not.
Owen Wilson made a great Woody Allen stand in last year’s Midnight In Paris. Penelope Cruz was all sex and fury in Vicky Christina Barcelona. And aside from the catastrophe of Scoop, Allen did a good job capturing Scarlett Johannsen‘s sex appeal in Match Point and Vicky Christina. In To Rome With Love, he attempts to do the same thing with Ellen Page. But it’s like he watched Juno and then hit pause until she showed up on his set in Rome.
Obviously, Ellen Page and Michael Cera had great chemistry in Juno. And Jesse Eisenberg is close enough to the Cera prototype to think they’d work well together on screen. But producing straight out sex appeal is not what Ellen Page does in movies.
Sure, she’s adorable and convincing as an awkward, intelligent adolescent. She brought those charms to X-Men: The Last Stand and Whip It. She even held her own as a sexless, brilliant bookworm in Inception.
But casting her as the sex goddess who tears apart a happy couple here makes about as much sense as casting Scarlett Johannsen as a Woody Allen foil in Scoop. It’s not out of character for Woody Allen to do such things. But isn’t there someone around to maybe point out that some casting just isn’t going to work?
In To Rome With Love, Eisenberg plays a young architect named Jack living in Rome with his girlfriend Sally. Sally is a nice, but boring blonde played by Gerwig (and Allen does her no favors either). When Sally’s friend Monica (Page) comes to visit, Sally describes her to Jack as “sensual, brainy, neurotic, funny — a real man magnet.” Does this sound like Ellen Page to you?
That description proves especially off-base when the script has Sally and Jack waiting at the airport to pick up this sexbot. The audience gets to sit in anticipation with them, wondering what gorgeous creature will step off the plane. When it turns out to be Page, you have to wonder if you’re being punk’d. She apologizes for her disheveled appearance and for a second, it seems like Woody Allen is taking the audience on a different trip than expected. Maybe Monica won’t seduce Jack after all. Maybe this story will go in an unpredictable, interesting direction.
But no. Page takes a shower, puts on some other baggy button down and is suddenly a goddess to Jack. Sally worries that Jack will fall for Monica, but repeatedly leaves them alone to wander the streets of Rome. And the audience simply has to endure their bumbling seduction while Alec Baldwin (who plays an aged figment of Jack’s imagination) narrates what a bad idea it is.
The production notes describe Monica as Sally’s “dazzling and flirtatious friend.” But throughout the movie, Page comes off as a little girl playing dress up. Like many young actors, Page struggles with Allen’s complicated word diagrams. There’s a fine line between an actor pulling off Woody Allen dialogue and simply sounding like a patient in a bad therapy session. Page ends up on the wrong side of that equation.
At one point, after failing to dissuade Jack from getting involved with Monica, Baldwin’s character John admonishes him: “Fine, walk into the propeller.”
Appearing in a Woody Allen film is a lot like like that metaphor for Hollywood stars. They should be able to see the carcasses of those who have gone before them. But they only pay attention to the ones who have succeeded and come out successfully on the other side. Unfortunately, Ellen Page doesn’t make it through.
(Photos: Sony, WENN)