Here is the trailer for Woody Allen's newest installment from his European walkabout, To Rome with Love. It's got a doozy of a cast: Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Jeese Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, Penelope Cruz, Judy Davis, and neurosis incarnate Woody Allen himself.
This is Woody Allen's 47th film as a director, and at this point, you are either a card-carrying fan of his nebbishy protagonists, his jittery dialogue, and his quirky leading ladies, or you just aren't buying it. This is not to say that being a fan requires you to love all of his movies, because there were certainly some stinkers along the way. But as a maker of movies, you either believe that Woody Allen knows a thing or two about how it's done or you think he is downright terrible at his job.
I was discussing the Woody Allen Problem with someone who has firmly placed himself in the latter category. For him, there is nothing palatable about any of Allen's movies. In response to my sputtering defense of the importance and greatness of some of his films he said, "You know, I am getting to a point in my life where I am worrying less about catching up on important things and just focusing on things I'm sure will make me happy. Statistically, Woody Allen movies are a roll of the die, you know." I do know. And so does Woody Allen; this, ironically, is the premise many of his films are built on.
But now that we're almost 50 movies deep in this game, the question is this: Is it even worth subjecting yourself to a new Woody Allen movie if you know that the Woody Allen Brand—from Hannah and Her Sisters up through Vicky Christina Barcelona—is simply not for you?
It is! Sure, we've seen a lot of the same old self-deprecating song and dance over the years, but we've also seen a new kind of Allen era emerge. Match Point, 2005's surprise dark crime thriller, is tonally different from anything Allen has ever done. The film, the first of his set outside Manhattan, also introduced his obsession with Scarlett Johansson—a new muse for a new decade(s).Cassandra's Dream (not great for reasons unrelated to Allen's shtick) shows that Allen is continuing to experiment stylistically and thematically, evolving as both a director and writer. The movies that followed are rife with hookers, lost bisexual free spirits, desperately insecure writers, and desperate-to-be free spirits. It's Allen's way of recalling his nervous protagonists and often sycophant antagonists from yesteryear in new and surprising ways. It has become more and more difficult to predict what exactly he'll do next. And as long as a filmmaker is changing, his audience has a chance to be surprised.
There are things however, that we can always expect from a Woody Allen picture. The hero will be self-deprecating. But this time the hero—played by Jesse Eisenberg and not Woody Allen—will be more confident than self-hating. Allen remains with his neurotic, tottering jokes, but he'll crack them in the background as the lovable older father/grandfather figure. In the new era of Allen, his younger characters take center stage, and that makes for a very different story.
To Rome with Love is in U.S. theaters on June 22.