As she transitions from television actress to film star, Kristen Bell seems to have all the makings of an “above the title” star with one exception: a quality vehicle in which to star in. Not counting a supporting role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, her career since Veronica Mars went off the air in 2007 has been one of modest success. And it’s a shame, really, because When in Rome should be the vehicle that makes her a huge star. It has everything going for it that a romantic comedy needs: a pair of beautiful locales and a co-star which she has substantial chemistry. That is except for a good script.
Beth (Bell) is a career-oriented woman spending a weekend in Rome, Italy, for the wedding of her younger sister (Alexis Dziena). A curator at the Guggenheim, she has never been lucky in love. After some initial signs of chemistry with the best man (Duhamel), a turn leaves her depressed and drunk in a “fountain of love.” Taking out five coins, she inadvertently wins the heart of five men. Dealing with their obsessive behavior towards her, as well as a budding romance with her romantic connection in Italy, the film follows her path of enlightenment towards the power of love.
The film has so much going for it that the end result is maddening in how it disappoints. Rome, and New York as well, are the two main settings for the film and the cinematography involving both is gorgeous. This is a film about love and romance and this is the first time in a while a film has used its setting truly to its advantage. There’s something romantic and intoxicating about both locales, as Mark Steven Johnson frames the film in a loving manner.
He also has two leads that look good together as well as have palpable chemistry as well. Duhamel and Bell seem mismatched but mesh together well. In a better film they would be the next Sandler-Barrymore combination, able to carry decent material to high levels of comedy. From their interactions to their body chemistry, the duo works well together. It’s palpable and believable that two people in their situation could fall in love, and it’s only because they work well together that the film’s perfunctory conclusion is one we can get behind. And the film’s problems can really be boiled down to one thing: overuse of one comedic device.
When in Rome is fails because it is working with a script that confuses comedy with pure slapstick, taking workable situations and just inserting slapstick when it isn’t necessary. It’s to the point where it gets uncomfortable as someone is consistently falling down or being hit with something in nearly every frame. In moments when something funny could be said instead it is filled with Duhamel being hit or falling down. It gets annoying after a while, as one is hoping for something else besides some physical comedy.
One can always tell that January is at an end because the light at the end of the tunnel of cinema because better films are on the way. When in Rome was released in January for a reason: it’s not very good. And it’s a shame because it shouldn’t be.
Director: Mark Steven Johnson Notable Cast: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Danny Devito, Jon Heder, Dax Shepherd, Don Johnson, Will Arnett Writer(s):Mark Steven Johnson, David Diamond, David Weissman