LOS ANGELES - The LA Film Festival has always done an admirable job of bringing in major films for its opening or closing night galas. Last year Richard Linklater's "Bernie" had its world premiere to kick off the 2011 edition of the festival and the year before eventual Oscar best picture nominee "The Kids Are All Right" inaugurated the event's move to LA Live (with riot police surrounding the after party following the Lakers NBA Championship win to boot). 2012 got off to a memorable start Thursday night with the U.S. premiere of Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love" and a surprise introduction from the legendary filmmaker himself.
"Rome" has already opened in Italy which became the fourth European city in Allen's recent "travelogue" series after London ("Match Point"), Paris ("Midnight in Paris") and Barcelona ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona"). Allen has been hot and cold over the past decade or so (an improvement from his mostly disappointing years between 1996-2004) and "Rome" is certainly more entertaining than "Scoop" or "Whatever Works," but doesn't live up to the creative heights of "Point," "Paris" or "Barcelona." The comedy centers on four individual story lines that touch on revisiting past relationships, the perils of faux celebrity, retirement and the potential benefits of adultery. While many of the stories meander and it doesn't necessarily jive as a complete work "Rome" still has some very funny moments thanks to performances from Allen (better than he's been as an actor in awhile), Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin and Penelope Cruz. The later seems to have found a second kindred spirit in Allen after her numerous triumphs with BFF Pedro Almodovar. Cruz isn't Oscar worthy here (she won a best supporting actress statue for Allen's "Barcelona"), but she's one of the more relaxed actors in the group and provides a spark to every scene she's in which the Spanish actress speaks in fluent Italian (or so we assume).
For a U.S. premiere it's always hard to get the entire cast to show up and when it's an independent film its even harder. So, it was a great surprise that Allen himself introduced the picture making a rare trip to Los Angeles to do so. Also on hand were stars Allison Pill, Greta Gerwig and Cruz. You can check out a video of some of Allen's remarks and introductions here.
The LA Film Festival continues through June 24 and features screenings of a number of notable features including "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Magic Mike," "Celeste and Jesse Forever," "The Queen of Versailles," 'Robot & Frank," "People Like Us," "Seeking a Friend at the End of the World" and "Brave."