When going to see a movie like When in Rome, the best plan of attack is to go in with low expectations, which is exactly what I did. Perhaps the most advantageous thing about seeing a movie when you're not expecting much is that if it's not as bad as you thought, then it could be considered a success. In the end, When in Rome wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and I did get in a few good laughs.
Kristen Bell, whose last foray into the rom-com genre was in Couples Retreat, plays Beth, a curator at the Guggenheim who's admittedly looking for "the one," meaning the one person she can love more than her job. Nine days before her make-or-break gala opening, she finds out she has to make a 48-hour trip to Rome to attend her little sister's wedding. Unbelievable enough, her sister Joan (Alexis Dziena), who you may remember as the snotty ex-girlfriend in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, decides to marry her Italian beau after knowing him two whole weeks. More unbelievable, they are tying the knot in a grand, traditional Italian ceremony a mere two days after Joan tells her sister of her engagement.
During the wedding, Beth meets best man Nick (Josh Duhamel), a sports writer from New York, (if you haven't noticed, sportswriter is an incredibly common profession in the world of the romantic comedy), and convinces herself to be open to the chance of falling in love. That is, until she sees him kiss an Italian beauty outside by a rea live fountain of love. Beth then drunkenly takes several coins from the fountain and the throwers of those coins instantly fall in love with her. She encounters the suitors back in New York: Antonio (Will Arnett) a tortured artist, Gale (Dax Shepard) a male model whose ego is bigger than his six-pack, Lance (Jon Heder) a street magician, and Al (Danny DeVito) a sausage titan. They all, conveniently enough, are in New York and are all men, what are the odds? Seriously, of all the coins in the fountain, she doesn't select one woman?
When in Rome follows the rom-com formula, which isn't necessarily a bad thing; there just aren't any surprises. Beth is by far one of the most neurotic, insecure leads ever, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, and still holds that fear through to the end of the movie. Nick is a lightning rod for pain, and can't seem to leave a scene without running face first into a tree.
The writing often comes off trying too hard to be funny, and the film seems to be laughing at its own jokes. What was a little disappointing was the lack of Italian scenery, though they do show the necessities, like the Coliseum, for example. All of the lovers are over-the-top in each of their own ways and a scene in which they all fit clown-car-style into Arnett's Vespa car is straight ridiculous.
One thing is certain about When in Rome, I know that every one of my girlfriends will be seeing this silly, romantic fantasy, and there's not too much shame in that. Well, maybe a little. The film does serve its purpose - it's romantic escapism that after a rough week at work is just what you need. Turn off your brain, don't expect much; there's plenty of over-the-top slapstick and unbelievable love spells to go around.
When in Rome ★★✩✩✩
Staring Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Danny DeVito. Directed by Mark Steven Johnson. Rated PG-13.