When in the movie theater, you do as other movie theater-goers do: buy a ticket and see a film. I tried to follow the masses, but I was thwarted in my efforts by a little sign hanging above the kiosk that said “Dear John 6:55 SOLD OUT.” It seemed a bit like the theater owner was telling someone named John that something called 6:55 was sold out, it was actually telling me I couldn’t see the movie I wanted.
So I abandoned my sheep-like efforts to be part of the in-crowd and blazed a trail to Rome. Or, more accurately, to theater #1, where When in Rome was playing. I’d seen the trailer and had some hope that despite a dumb sounding setup:
A workaholic who doesn’t believe in the magic of love is forced to re-evaluate her position when she takes coins from the fountain of love and ends up with five magically spellbound suitors, one of whom she’s actually interested in.
…it could turn out to be okay. Was it an improvement on what I originally had planned? I don’t know. That will have to wait until after I’ve seen Dear John. It’s probably not, but it was worth a look.
When in Rome‘s aforementioned workaholic is called Beth (Kristen Bell), a museum curator with a decent repertoire of witty quips.
She’s pretty, but in a real person way rather than a generic supermodel way
In the first few minutes of the movie, we learn that she has a demanding boss, three supportive underling/friends, and a rich ex-boyfriend who dumped her (Lee Pace, from Pushing Daisies). While she’s not opposed to love, she’s not exactly holding her breath for her prince to come. Through series of embarrassing and unfunny pratfalls (salad in the teeth, broken heel, engagement misunderstanding) we’re supposed to learn that her love life sucks, but what I actually got from it was an understanding that the movie was going to suck.
“Oh no! My favorite shoe broke!” is the last joke at the bottom of the rom com barrel
And then suddenly Beth’s sister arrives, announcing that she met a handsome Italian two weeks ago and is getting married… in three days! Suddenly everything that had just been established, including that the movie was going to be terminally unfunny, is flung out the window.
“Psych! I’m not actually in this movie!”
Beth jets off to Rome for an elegant wedding that could definitely not have been set up in two weeks, let alone three days.
But where did you get time to have a dress made? And book an ancient cathedral??
I could’ve used a few aerial establishing shots of Rome, considering its importance to the film, but director Mark Steven Johnson whisks us along in a manner that says “There’s no time! We have to get to the part where she meets her devilishly handsome love interest!” Said handsome devil is Nick (Josh Duhamel).
he’s attractive in that All-American “I was produced by the Handsome-o-Matic machine” way
Nick is the best man and has the same doubts about her sister’s whirlwind romance as Beth does. Bonding occurs over a series of amusing screwups involving indestructible vases and speech translations…
BETH: My baby sister, who has made magic come true…
NICK: (in Italian) Er… maybe if we all clap now, the speech will be over
Both Nick and Beth both came off looking kind of idiotic at the wedding. This trend continues throughout the film, which is a relief, since so many rom coms try to paint either the guy or the girl as being endearingly klutzy only to have him or her look like a moron who needs to be constantly saved from his/her own inner ear by an attractive member of the opposite sex.
I won’t name names, but…
Unfortunately a drunk Italian girl gives Beth the impression Nick’s already attached, so she gets drunk and cavorts in the Fountain of Love, plucking out coins to “save” their owners from getting hurt like she did.
Hmmm, there’s enough Euros in here to buy more wine!
Unbeknownst to her (at least until her sister calls her up and tells her) that means the coin’s owners automatically fall in love with her. By some stroke of luck, all five of the coins she chooses belong to men, four of them American, though that’s at best statistically improbable, given that most of the people wishing for love so badly that they’d throw coins in a fountain in Rome are probably Italian women. But no matter, Beth returns to New York with four magically love-struck dorks in tow.
there’s the Italian artist who wants to paint her toes
the magician/pickpocket who sounds like Napoleon Dynamite and looks like Criss Angel
the tiny sausage maker who keeps giving her sausages
and narcissistic yet unattractive male model
None of them are as funny as they really should be, considering that they’re the comic centerpiece of the film. At one point they even try to trade off of Napoleon Dynamite laughs by randomly inserting Efren Ramirez into one of the scenes.
He doesn’t do anything, but look! It’s Pedro! Isn’t that funny?!
So they’re not hilarious but they’re not aggressively unfunny either. Most of the comedy comes from the fact that they just keep showing up out of nowhere and interrupting her when she’s with Nick, who may or may not also be under the influence of fountain magic. Magic is the only explanation for how they keep finding her…
“I knew you would jog in this park!.. and that you would wear this outfit!”
But generally speaking most of the stuff that doesn’t have to do with magic is fairly funny and makes enough sense to keep my auto-scorn reflex from acting up. Some of Nick’s pratfalls are pretty standard (e.g. running into poles, falling in holes) but writers David Diamond and David Weissman (the Davids?) manage, through fake-outs and a tiny bit of envelope-pushing, to elicit laughs.
being crammed into a tiny car = amusing
being crammed into a tiny car in an elevator = hilarious
Nick and Beth are cute individually and, more importantly, cute together.
It’s hard to explain Nick’s almost stalker-like persistence in winning her over without the aid of fountain magic. Viewed through the lens of audience-o-vision her constant brush-offs and bailouts make sense because we know about the bewitched suitors, but switch over to Nick’s perspective and her behavior seems at best off-putting and at worst batshit insane.
EEEEEEEEK! Get away from me!!!
I also could have used a bit more in the subplot department (there’s practically nothing apart from a few scenes with Beth’s assistant and Nick’s photographer friend that don’t go anywhere) but the structure of the primary plot was unusual enough to keep me interested. I’m just glad they didn’t force in a standard “oh you betrayed me” moment at the end of the second act.
“You’re actually my therapist/IRS agent/worst enemy/mother but you really do love me??
I DON’T BELIEVE YOU! Go do something embarrassing in public to make it up to me.”
I also appreciate how Beth’s job is actually relevant to the plot. With a lot of lazier romantic comedies, the character’s jobs are just afterthoughts, immediately cast off as soon as the action begins.
I’m not naming any names, but…
Beth is a curator at the Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
where they apparently replaced their rusty pipe and plywood displays with cooler art since I was there
The Guggenheim is used well as a setting, showcasing the spiral ramps and artwork in a way that lets us see and respect Beth’s expertise.
picture chasing a rolling object down all these ramps
And Nick’s job as a sports writer/former football player comes into play as well, because Beth’s got to pull off a new “Pain” exhibit OR ELSE and Nick is able to help thanks to his once being hit by lightning while playing college football.
don’t ask, it sort of makes sense in the movie
Anyway, in the end lessons are learned, kisses are exchanged, and endings are made happy. There are some laughs…
eating dinner in a totally dark restaurant
…some confusingly nonsensical plot aberrations…
Why is Shaquille O’Neal in this movie??
But in the end I wasn’t sorry I’d shelled out $11 to see it. So if you’re not put off by the trailer, you probably won’t be either.