At first blush, Woody Allen's latest entry into his grand European tour bears a close resemblance to Monica, the character played by Ellen Page in the film: very pretty to look at and just smart enough to suggest hidden depths, but ultimately a trifle shallow and self-centered. Unlike Monica, however, it's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you know what you're getting into and why. When Allen first appears — as a father flying into Rome to meet the family of his daughter's fiancee — he's got death on his mind. It stays there throughout the movie, evanescing life set against the backdrop of the Eternal City. Mortal thoughts tend to make a body look back and take stock of what will get left behind, and Allen's certainly earned the right to do so onscreen. So yes, we've seen and heard a lot of this before. The gorgeous prostitute dispensing wisdom (Penelope Cruz)? Mighty Aphrodite. The quasi-character who serves as a kind of Greek chorus (Alec Baldwin)? Ditto. Freud jokes? Oy! And yes, the pop-culture references creak right alongside the overlong ruminations on celebrity and the emptiness of fame. But there is a point here, however modest: an artist considering his reasons for making art, and for continuing to do so as the twilight deepens. The plot, such as it is, gathers rather than weaves a number of threads that all trace back to Allen himself, if not to his character in the film. The most interesting of these centers on a man who sings opera, but only in the shower - who makes art for himself, but can't help wondering what the world might think. 2012.

1.0 stars

— Matthew Lickona

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