Woody Allen's latest looks like a Euro-pudding but isn’t quite one. Yes, it’s shot through with a peaches-and-cream palette, accompanied by “the two Vs — Verdi and Volare”, but given half of it actually is in Italian, it truly feels like an early ’70s indigenous farce — yet it reaches beyond being a straightforward profiterole.
Allen again utilises a European city and a starry cast as a springboard to discuss its clichés and fuse them with arguments of his own. So we bounce from Allen as a retiring opera director reinvigorated by hearing his in-law (renowned tenor Fabio Armiliato) singing in the shower to architect Alec Baldwin, advising his 40-years-younger self (Jesse Eisenberg) on women (Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page). Oh, and regular Joe Roberto Benigni wakes up one morning to discover he is a superstar for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
The good news is there’s much here that is genuinely funny, from Baldwin suffering “Ozymandias melancholia” to an entire story strand riffing on Psycho’s shower scene with brilliant aplomb. Baldwin’s constant breaking of the fourth wall in his conscience commentary to Eisenberg is also a pleasure, as is the long-gestating reason behind the Benigni fame frenzy. However, the sheer amount Allen is trying to cover hinders deep attachment to anyone and the film, running beyond his customary 88 minutes, has a sense of stretching conceits to breaking point.
Baldwin, Penélope Cruz and Judy Davis (as Allen’s wife) remain aces in the pack, relishing their roles and keeping proceedings just about on the right side of Allen’s hit-and-miss output of late. Despite a few darker undercurrents concerning the nature of celebrity, mortality and the trappings of infidelity, the end result remains a little... tiramisu — a fluffy pudding with only a bit of bite underneath.