When In Rome (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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When In Rome (2010)

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Andrew INDIFFERENTThe chances of me being this conflicted over a movie review for the rest of the year are very slim.  In all serious movie critic nonsense, I should probably hate every minute of When In Rome.  Kristen Bell’s performance in the lead is one of the most annoyingly over exaggerated things I’m likely to see all year, and the aspects of the relationship between the two leads is as conventional as you can get.  But what about the rest of the movie?

It’s insane.  It goes ahead of insane in the crazy line.  It enters into some kind of female objectification realm that thrusts itself beyond what would be considered offensive and seems to enter some kind of strange meta commentary null set voided zone of criticism.  Can I effectively criticize such strange attempts at orbital weirdness?  Given my range of emotions from wonderfully amused to ludicrously freaked out, I think I’m going to need to try, lest the patron saint of movie criticism strike me down.

So but for the grace of Kael, I go into the realm of When In Rome.

Beth (Kristen Bell) is really unlucky when it comes to love.  So unlucky that her ex decides that he needs to inform her he is marrying someone else, whilst her friends think he is proposing to her.  Whoopsy daisy!  If only that were the first, and only, obvious joke set up over the course of the movie.  But, alas, it isn’t.  Many aspects of the film operate on a form of autopilot previously seen in such monstrosities as Leap Year.  But, strangely, the film finds a unique form to redeem itself in some fashion.

You see, in the same week that Beth’s ex decides to accidentally not propose, her little sister gets married to a man that she has only known for two weeks.  If this sounds a little unlikely, prepare yourself for the rest of the plot.  Beth finds herself in a fountain after being spurned by the Man Of Her Dreams (Nick - Josh Duhamel), or only assumedly spurned, and fishing for coins in the fountain to save other would be lovers from a lifetime of needless optimism.    You see, the legend behind the fountain is that the person that picks up the coin becomes the object of desire for the one that threw the metallic piece in.  A legend When In Rome takes absolutely seriously.

This is how we are treated to the sight of incredibly talented comic actors falling over themselves to gain Beth’s attention.  Not a single one of them would pass as normal, or even passably conventional, in the normal romantic comedy sense.  So now we have a street magician (Jon Heder), competing with a male model (Dax Shepard), a sausage king (Danny Devito), and an Italian painter (Will Arnett).  Half of this cast is funny as hell in “normal” circumstances and are now asked to follow Beth around to the ends of the Earth discarding all taste, tact and talent in the dream that she might one day be their own.

Is this creepy?  You betcha.  Is this entertaining?  Mostly, yes.  In a strange twist of fate, Devito and Arnett end up being grossly outshined by Shepard and Heder.  Maybe I have a soft spot for street magicians and male models, but they were incredibly entertaining in roles that could have been creepy beyond any reasonable measure.  Heder even manages to invoke his previous Napeoleon Dynamite fame that manages to make absurd sense.  Such is the occasionally strange magic that the movie works.

Rounding out the entertaining supporting cast is an adrift Anjelica Huston that avoids the scenerey chewing antics of others and manages to be intensely funny instead.  So why am I so hesitant to give this movie an actual recommendation beyond the stellar supporting cast and genuine laughs that it earns?  Well, those laughs are still at the expense of an objectifying script and a performance from Kristen Bell that doesn’t seem to be in on the joke - or salvageable in any way.

To be fair, she has to act against Josh Duhamel, who tries his hardest but is barely above a sub-sitcom level of humor.  Having seen Bell’s other work though, I know that she is beyond the shameless mugging that I see in When In Rome.  But scene after scene, she embarasses herself with ridiculous overacting that would seem out of place in a rountine 50’s melodrama.  She never knows quite how to adjust her acting style to each situation, and is outclassed by extras in each scene.  Not a good state for the lead in the film to be in.

Then we have to deal with the inherent creepiness of the plot.  What we have are a series of five males fawing over themselves for the right to stalk Beth.  While some of them find amusing means to do so (thank you Mr. Heder), the net result is a vibe of supported stalking throughout the whole film.  We never get the sense that anyone in the film thought that stalking a complete stranger was a bad idea.  Yet, each one of the supporting creepers, and the lead creeper, are all rewarded with  a sense of happiness in the end.  This is not the message that, personally, I think a romantic comedy should be sending.

Creepy vibes and bad lead performance aside, this is one of the few passable romantic comedies I’ve seen all year.  This speaks more to the quality of romantic comedies I've seen more than anything.  But when I chuckled, it turned into a laugh - and when I laughed it turned into a slight bellyache.  So it earns the guffaws it gets, but at the price of a bit of comfort.  I can’t recommend this film, but see the potential of it’s attempt in shooting a traditional romantic comedy completely off the rails.  If you seek it out, best of luck, you may find more joy in it’s creepy morality than I.

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When In Rome (2010)

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson.
Written by David Diamond and David Weissman.
Starring Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel.

Posted by Andrew

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