As the release date approached, it became pretty clear that this was not going to be a critical darling. I know, hard to believe right? I knew going in that it was going to be fighting an uphill battle, but I kept up hope that it would not be as terrible as so many wanted to believe it would be. I mean, I like some of the cast members and we can always use a decent romantic comedy. We get so few of them that we have to believe a good one is right around the corner. That leaves the million dollar question: is When in Rome a good romantic comedy or does it deserve the critical drubbing it has been receiving? Believe it or not, the answer is no on both counts.
Romantic comedies are not exactly bursting with high quality creative energy. It seems that they just scrape by on formula and chemistry of the leads. It is not often we get something like Definitely, Maybe or (500) Days of Summer. Granted, they may be a little light on the comedy, but they are very good films that prove the genre still has a little bit of life left in it.
When In Rome does not really reach very high. It does settle on formula. It does rely on star chemistry. No, it is not a very good movie. Still, I found myself enjoying it. The move is cute, the stars have decent chemistry, and I actually liked the story. This despite the fact it's underwritten and predictable.
Wow. Did I just admit that? Yes, I think I did. And you know what? I am not taking it back or apologizing. I will likely forget this movie in relatively short order, but who am I to say how I will react to it down the line? One of the things that makes movies interesting and worth watching, for better or for worse, is the way they make you feel in the moment. Movies cause emotional reactions and these reactions are not always logical or quantifiable. In this case, I found myself smiling while another part of me recognized that this did not make a lot of sense and was not written very well.
I decided to just go along with it. My smiling side won out over logic. It does happen sometimes and, just so you know, emotional responses are not as easily dismissed as the logic-hounds would have you believe. It is just as valid a response as any. So, let me say that if your emotions tell you you like something, believe them.
The story centers on Beth (Kristen Bell), a workaholic curator at the Guggenheim Museum. She has been hurt by love and has turned her full focus on her work. It was a good choice, as she needs to keep on point lest she draw the ire of her boss, the rather severe Anjelica Huston. Of course, her plans begin to go awry when her sister shows up saying she is going to be married in Rome in two days' time.
Off Beth goes to Rome in what will become a trip that will forever change her life. While there, she immediately finds a connection with the groom's best man Nick (Josh Duhamel). However, further disillusionment with love sees her hop in the fountain of love where she plucks out a few coins in hopes of bringing her some love.
This supernatural faux pas finds a bunch of strangers following her back to New York in hopes of winning her love. Of course, the number of followers does not match the number of people pursuing her, so we are supposed to believe that the final coin belongs to Nick. Now, I do not want to give it away, but how many of actually believe it will turn out to be his? Didn't think so. Considering the lack of mystery regarding the coin, it is easy to see the movie is not terribly well plotted.
With the plot out of the way, I mean there is not much to it, so why dwell on it? What makes this movie work is Kristen Bell. I will not say she is the greatest actress in the world, but she has been doing good work ever since she broke out on Veronica Mars. She has good screen presence, comic timing, and is not afraid of looking a little bit silly. Now, the performance is broad, but it still works. There is more to her than what is on the page and you may have to scratch at it to get to it, but it is there. Then there is Josh Duhamel, playing a variation of his Las Vegas role as the lovable lunk. He is fine, but doesn't have a lot to do.
The supporting cast is filled with recognizable faces in small roles. These faces include Danny DeVito, Dax Shepard, Will Arnett, John Heder (and his Napoleon Dynamite counterpart Efren Ramirez in the least funny part of the film), and Don Johnson. Mostly thankless roles, but Shepard wrings the most comedy out of his time.
Seriously, though, the film is cute and has a sweet disposition. As poorly written and executed as it was, I found myself disarmed by it. We all want to believe in love. We all want to believe that it is unconditional. The problem is that most of us do not recognize it when it is right in front of us. In this generation of "me" and the unwarranted sense of entitlement that seems to go along with it, it is easy to give up on the idea of unconditional love. I mean, why bother when most marriages end in divorce or when you are constantly worried about infidelity? Despite the lack of good romantic comedies, or romances in general, at least there is still a belief in love and finding the right person on the screen.
Bottom line. No, not a good movie. However, it has an infectious quality that is hard to ignore. I am sure to be in the minority of people talking about this movie, but so what? Give the movie a shot, it is worth it.