The way I see this movie is as an ode to everyday's life. It handles eternal themes such as love, death, family and everything in between, without exaggerating or going over-the-top with anything. A random slice of life if you will, told Fellini style.
Of course I love Federico Fellini's movies as much as everybody else does, which however also makes me sort of surprised that this movie is by many regarded to be one of his best. I really don't see this movie as such and wasn't as taking and intrigued by it as was the case with some of his other work, from around the same time period.
But having said that, it still remains obviously a very enchanting movie, due to the way it all got shot and told. It's a real beautiful looking movie, that is also really well directed, which you'll especially notice when you really start to pay attention to the way it all got told and handled by Federico Fellini. It all got shot with a velvet glove and eye for detail.
This of course isn't the first or only movie about random life but what still makes this movie sort of unique is the fact that the movie doesn't really try to provide any answers or solutions, which in itself actually works out as an answer and conclusion itself. It shows that you can't always have things in your own hands and you shouldn't be looking too hard for all of the answers in life, or chances are you'll miss out on some of its beauty. Just live life could be the shortest way to describe the 'meaning' and message of this movie.
It also shows that not everything is what it seems to be in life. People we put on a pedestal are really not as great or happy as they look and things like love and hate can often be closer to each other than we would like to think. This not only shows in Marcello's love life but also in the relationship he has with his father for instance.
So it's a movie that is heavy and serious on its themes perhaps but at the same time it also remains an happy and charming movie to look at. This is also one of the powers of a Fellini movie I think. No matter how heavy or serious some stuff might get, you'll never finish watching the movie feeling all down or depressed. It's because of the pleasant pacing and the sort of adventurous feeling of the movie but also of course due to it's wonderful looking visuals.
I also was really fond of the acting. Kind of hard to believe that Marcello Mastroianni was not considered to be not suitable by the studios for this movie but luckily Fellini pushed his will through. I really can't imaging anybody else playing the main character, since Marcello Mastroianni is so perfect for it. He probably is my most favorite Italian actor of all time as well. Who also really makes an impact in this movie is Anita Ekberg but that has more to do with her looks and appearance in the movie than anything else (she is a former Miss Sweden, this should tell you enough really).
Simply a wonderful and delightful movie but I just wouldn't call it Fellini's best to be honest. But this however should tell you more about the quality of some of his other movies than about the quality of this one.