Judge Gordon Sullivan's still at the Coliseum, waiting for the next gladiator match.
All is fair in love and Rome.
I used to think the horror film was the most critic-proof of film genres. No matter what anybody in the trades may have said, dutiful fans line up in droves, despite and often because of bad reviews. Then I noticed a pretty strange trend. Every single romantic comedy I've enjoyed in the last five years (including the ones I've reviewed here) was almost universally panned by critics. Either I'm a huge softy, unable to discriminate in the realm of the rom-com, or the formulaic nature of the genre as a whole leaves the film reviewer with little to say. Since I'd rather watch The Evil Dead than When Harry Met Sally pretty much any day of the week, I'm guessing it's not that I'm a big softy. Which brings me to When in Rome, a romantic comedy I absolutely enjoyed but doesn't—as many other reviewers have pointed out—break any new ground. Those willing to overlook a few unfunny moments and painfully contrived plot elements will find a bubbly comedy that succeeds in being cute without taking itself too seriously. Although When in Rome (Blu-ray) isn't loaded with extras, the technical presentation is good enough to recommend the disc to fans.
Facts of the Case
Beth (Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars) loves her job as a curator at the Guggenheim. Despite the fact that she's preparing one of the most important shows of the year, she packs off to Rome for day to see her sister get married. There, she meets Nick (Josh Duhamel, Transformers), and the sparks fly. When it looks like Nick might be a bit of a player, Beth gets a bit drunk and ends up in the Fontana de Amore (the fountain of love), where the love-lost throw their coins in the hope that they'll find love. She decides to pick up some coins before heading back to New York. Once she arrives home, she discovers that several men seem very interested in her. Her sister informs Beth that by taking the coins, she's captured the love of these three gentlemen and can only stop the insanity by returning their coins in person. Meanwhile, it turns out that Nick is not a player, and he really fell for Beth. She finds herself falling for him, too, but it appears she may have taken his coin from the fountain. Can she really hold onto the false love of the perfect guy, or will she return the coin and find the spell unbroken?
Kristen Bell is oddly placed in Hollywood. She doesn't have the exotic beauty of someone like Angelina Jolie, nor the down-to-earth looks of Meg Ryan or Sandra Bullock. Instead, she occupies a middle ground between gorgeous and girl-next-door. Similarly, Josh Duhamel doesn't have the pretty boy looks of Johnny Depp or Colin Farrell or the rugged features of a Hugh Jackman. Perhaps because of their similar place in Hollywood's beauty hierarchy, they have excellent chemistry. This chemistry really anchors When in Rome. Kristen Bell is totally believable as the intelligent, driven curator, and Josh Duhamel is excellent as a curious, charming reporter. They're not quite the filthy rich, nor are they everyday people, so their characters (and their romance) seem easy to identify with. I haven't rooted this hard for a relationship to succeed in a long while.
Aside from an early mistake (where Beth thinks Nick is coming on to someone), there's not much of the contrived "break up to make up" plot elements in the last part of the film. Instead, Beth's reluctance to pursue Nick is driven by a logical consequence of the whole "magic coins" plot idea. This gives the film a much more organic structure rather than the beat-driven first/second/third act pace of many romantic comedies. There's also one of the most genuine moments of emotion I've ever seen late in When in Rome. I won't spoil it, but Danny Devito's performance absolutely sells it.
When in Rome is a tough film to judge in hi-def. Overall, it certainly looks good, with bright, accurate colors, strong black levels, and no compression problems. However, the film seems to have been shot intentionally soft, robbing this hi-def transfer of some of the detail audiences have come to expect from recent releases. Probably inspired by the light in Rome itself, the film uses a lot of soft light, and Kristen Bell in particular is often lit in a way that is reminiscent of Hollywood's glamour lighting of the thirties and forties. So, it's a good transfer, but not one to show off Blu-ray's potential. The DTS-HD soundtrack is a bit overkill for this dialogue-heavy film. I didn't notice much use of the surrounds, but dialogue and music were clearly audible and well-balanced.
This Blu-ray discs starts out with some exclusive extras. We get an alternate opening and closing, some shenanigans from the set, and some extras scenes with the suitors. The other extras include a blooper reel, some more deleted scenes, and some music videos for songs featured in the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Quite honestly, I could have done without the suitors entirely. With the exception of a mostly dialogue-free montage, they're just not that funny. Danny Devito is the best of the bunch as a sausage king, but despite the fact that they're obviously game for anything, Dax Shepard, Will Arnett, and Jon Heder simple aren't given enough to do to be funny.
The plot would probably also work without them. The idea of a woman taking coins from a love fountain and then falling for a guy who may or may not be under a spell is a solid one, if a little outside the realm of possibility. Since the suitors don't really seem to complicate the basic love story between Beth and Nick, they're really only there for comic relief. Since they're not particularly funny, they're doubly useless as characters.
Chances are if you enjoy romantic comedies, you'll enjoy When in Rome. The story is cute, the leads are solid, and everything turns out happily ever after. Fans of Bell or Duhamel should especially consider this one for their excellent chemistry. This Blu-ray disc suffers from a lack of substantial extras, but it's at least worth a rental for fans.
When in Rome gets by on charm and chemistry. Not guilty.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
• Alternate Opening
Review content copyright © 2010 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.