Woody Allen may be an Oscar-winning writer-director coming off the top-grossing film of his career at the age of 76, but the man is not exactly brimming with confidence.
"I had a wonderful time making this picture in Rome," said Allen at the Regal Cinemas in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday night, where his new film "To Rome With Love" had its North American premiere as the opening-night attraction at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
"This does not mean that you'll enjoy it."
It was something of a coup for LAFF to get Allen to accompany his film to the town he famously trashed in "Annie Hall."
Festival director Stephanie Allain, in her first year on the job after replacing Rebecca Yeldham, was clearly excited to begin her festival tenure by welcoming the crowd and introducing an iconic director who makes a movie a year but seems to rarely venture west of the Hudson River.
And Allen, who was greeted with an immediate standing ovation, trotted out his typical Woody Allen persona, all self-deprecation and jokes.
He thanked his ensemble cast "for making me look good," paid tribute to absent cast members Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page and Roberto Benigni, and introduced a quintet of women who were in attendance: Penelope Cruz, Greta Gerwig, Alison Pill and Italian actresses Simona Caparrini and Alessandra Mastronardi.
After warning the audience that the fun he had shooting the movie in Rome might not have translated to the screen, Allen offered a suggestion: "If you like it, you have to tell your friends, and pressure Sony [Pictures Classics] so that they don't put it in the witness protection program."
At the end of his remarks, he offered a variation on that theme: "If you like the picture, I'm thrilled. If you hate it and think it was a waste of time coming, don't let me know. I get depressed easily."
Allen might be in for a mild case of depression, at least based on the early reactions to his film.
Of the initial reviews and first tweets out of the screening, few were raves; if a consensus could be gleaned from talk at the opening-night party on the roof of the L.A. Live parking structure, it was that "To Rome With Love" has its moments, but it's no "Midnight in Paris."
Lighter and more scattered than its predecessor, the film is something of a fantasia on fame and regret, among other things, interweaving four separate stories that take place more-or-less simultaneously but seldom intersect.
Like "Midnight in Paris," the film mixes the real with the magical, but it does so in a way that is sometimes unclear and jarring; for every story that works is another that doesn’t.
I'd put the Alec Baldwin/Jesse Eisenberg/Ellen Page/Greta Gerwig story firmly in the "it works" column, though I didn't feel that way until a stray line of Baldwin's provided an explanation that made sense of the whole thing. (Allen may have an entirely different explanation in mind, but I like mine and I'm sticking to it.)
The Roberto Benigni storyline, which similarly treads a line between the real and the imagined, felt significantly clunkier, while the other stories were sporadically entertaining.
Allen (left, with Sony Classics co-chiefs Michael Barker and Tom Bernard) has now spent the last seven years filming where his international financing has led him: "Match Point," "Scoop" and "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" in Great Britain, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" in Spain, "Midnight in Paris" in France … His sojourn in Rome feels as if it must have been lots of fun for him -- but as his comments at LAFF suggested, it might be a little less fun for audiences.
Still, the festival kickoff was a festive one, between landing the elusive Allen in person and launching LAFF across the street from where the Los Angeles Kings had celebrated their Stanley Cup victory only hours earlier.
(What's with LAFF and sports championships? Two years ago, the Lakers won the NBA championship across the street while the festival's opening film was screening.)
The festival schedule begins in earnest on Friday, with events that include screenings of the Sundance sensation "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and the SXSW winner "Gimme the Loot" and a free showing of "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial."