I don't like to think too much about Woody Allen.
No, not that stuff; I don't care that he married his step-daughter. I'm talking about what he has to tell us about growing old, because it's kind of a bummer. It's something he's done right before our eyes over the course of the past five decades, every year or so delivering another movie, every year or so disproving the notion that, as you age, you become wiser. If he was learning anything new about humanity, wouldn't he tell us? Wouldn't he knock it off with characters who continue to spin their wheels, grinding into the mud the same neuroses and same commitment issues and same romantic weaknesses they failed at in the 1970s, 80s, 90s and 00s?
It's possible that that is all we're going to get, that that's the message. Life is terrible and love is unreliable and Allen's failure to make his characters happy is the equivalent of Ingmar Bergmans' inability to comprehend the "Silence of God." Which is why I'm glad that there are fluffy-headed films like Midnight in Paris and, to a less enthusiastic extent, this one. Because, seriously, do you want to have a heavy conversation with your grandparents about the meaning of life and how to live it or do you want them to tell you silly stories about their latest vacation in Europe and where to get the best pizza in Naples? You know the answer to that one already.
This time around you get a nifty travelogue with cool scenery and a handful of slight, disconnected stories about people in Rome falling in and out of love and bed. You get a funny opera singer and a hooker and a movie star and a clerk who finds overnight fame for no good reason. You get Allen being Allen and Jesse Eisenberg being Allen and Ellen Page being Allen. You get fantasy Alec Baldwin the same way you got fantasy Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris and the reliable absurdism that's popped its head up at regular intervals throughout Allen's entire career. If there's such a thing as Woody Allen comfort food, this is it.
It's a minor film from a major director who, at least for now and possibly for good, is content to please the fans, coast for a comfortable minute, not rock the boat, enjoy putting Penelope Cruz in a tiny little dress, have a nice nap in the afternoon and not stress too much about it when his son talks trash about him on Twitter. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe that's the wisdom.