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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. But 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.

Reader rating: one star

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