When in Rome
Love? Beth has no time for love. She's an ambitious art curator at New York's world-famous Guggenheim. Her days are full and fulfilling. She wears nice clothes. She has good teeth. Why, Beth's life is—she insists to anyone within earshot—perfect. Perfect, she tells us! A man? Well, until she meets someone she loves more than her job (yeah, like that's going to happen), a man would just get in the way.
It's a given, then, that Beth's aghast when her little sister, Joan, announces that she's about to marry a mysterious Italian man she met on a plane a couple of weeks earlier. And when I say "about to marry," I mean within, like, days. In Rome.
"Two weeks?" Beth exclaims. "That's not even enough time for a credit check."
But Joan is not to be swayed, and so Beth takes leave of her precious job to attend the wedding in Europe's Eternal City—a place so bursting with romance that its citizens likely toss their excess romance into recycle bins, 'cause if they don't it just washes into the gutters and clogs 'em something awful.
Somebody must have missed trash day about the time Beth arrives, because she immediately falls for the wedding's best man, Nick, who has the physique of a Renaissance statue and the grace of a caffeinated walrus. The two hit it off, and Beth's almost sure that Nick might be the one—until she catches another woman smooching him.
Deeply peeved at Nick, herself and the entire Roman empire, Beth finds solace in a bottle of champagne, plops herself down by Rome's (fictional) Fountain of Love and starts reading the riot act to the statue in its center. And then, in a fit of drunken logic, she swipes a handful of coins from the fountain—just for spite.
Little does Beth know that the fountain has had so much romance dumped in it over the years that the stuff has mutated into a powerful, somewhat capricious force that would surely let loose a bone-chilling cackle if blessed with vocal cords. But it's not, so instead the fountain casts a spell on the stolen coins' original owners: Those who tossed their pennies into the thing are now completely smitten with Beth and will do anything—including pursuing her all the way back to New York—to win her love.
Beth actually really likes one of the guys who is pursuing her. And as she finds herself falling ever more in love with him, she has to grapple with her belief that his affection for her is nothing more than the fountain's enchantment—not true love at all. She really does long for true love, not some sort of magical love. So, knowing she risking the loss of the man of her dreams, she tries to reverse the fountain's spell. "If I take his love against his will, that's not love at all," she says.
Beth's bevy of enchanted pursuers also learn a valuable message about love. They continue to woo her passionately throughout the film, but they eventually come to understand that love is about sacrifice: When she tells them who it is she loves, they put aside their struggle to win her heart and instead try to help her fulfill her own dreams. As Al, the diminutive sausage king tells her, love means putting "someone else's needs above your own."
That's good stuff. As is the fact that Nick lets her use a treasured work of art he owns (when she's in dire need of a piece to fill out her latest Guggenheim exhibit), even when it looks like his generosity won't lead to any reciprocal romance.
The magical fountain's magic is of the sort often seen in Disney films. It's a nebulous power neutered of origin or morality (though the "spell" it casts is accompanied by lightning flashes). It simply is, and the characters are left to deal with the consequences.
The movie's weddings take place in a glorious Italian church, presided over by a priest. Beth's father told her once that the Guggenheim has a glass ceiling so that God could see the artwork from above.
By modern romcom standards, When in Rome is restrained. Beth does not hop into bed with Nick or any of her other wooers, and double entendres are largely (though not wholely) absent.
But there are still some problem points: Antonio, one of Beth's would-be Romeos, is an artist, and he draws and paints Beth frequently—sometimes as he imagines she'd look nude. At one juncture, he paints a massive nude mural of her on the side of a building, and we see her form's breasts. (The painting's groin is obscured by Antonio.)
Another ardent pursuer, this one a male model, shows Beth his portfolio—including a picture where he's naked, his genitals hidden from view by a small dog. He then takes off his shirt to give her a thrill. "I've never tried to share my beauty with anyone before," he tells her.
As for Beth, she wears an array of revealing tops. And when she makes a toast at her sister's wedding, her words are mistranslated to her Italian audience as a longing to "share" Joan's new husband. Later, we see Joan and her hubby cooking in the kitchen—mostly naked. (Joan's wearing an apron. The countertop hides their midsections.)
Beth's parents are divorced, and her mother talks of needing to meet her ex's "current tramp of the month." Both Beth and Nick joke about how long Joan's marriage will last. Someone references a "booty call."
Nick, who used to play football in college, had his career cut short by a lightning bolt during a game. (We see the, er, flashback.) He's a pretty accident-prone guy, it turns out, and we watch him run into a horse-drawn carriage, get slammed by a car and fall into an open pit. He kicks a platter of champagne, smashes a vase and trips over tables in a crowded restaurant. As part of a wedding ceremony, Beth tries to smash a vase with a microphone stand, severely mangling the stand and accidentally sending the vase careening into somebody's noggin.
The street magician pulls a bloody, still-beating heart from his chest during a performance. (It's fake, naturally.) Beth tells Nick about one of Picasso's lovers—and how she killed herself when the painting master died.
Crude or Profane Language
Fewer than a half-dozen uses of "d‑‑n" and three or four uses of "h‑‑‑." God's name is misused about 10 times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Champagne. Wine. Beer. We see Beth and Co. drink them all, and Beth gets seriously smashed by swigging champagne straight from the bottle.
Other Negative Elements
Beth steals the coins from the fountain. Beth's assistant steals the stolen coins from her. Nick bets on poker with some of his buds. We learn that the priest has a gambling habit. And during the closing credits, the actor who plays him tries (unsuccessfully) to break dance while still wearing priestly garb.
The male model once posed for a product called "Gasee." Though we're not specifically told what this product does, we do know the model's rear was prominently displayed.
When in Rome is a silly, predictable, occasionally sweet and relatively clean romcom. It's refreshing to see a romance not terminate under the sheets.
But while the film doesn't overemphasize sex, it errs in another way—underemphasizing marriage, or at least its sanctity and sacredness.
Reacting to the news that Joan is getting married, Dad is delirious with joy, wondering aloud when he'll be able to throw another wedding. Beth's retort? Soon. You're about due for another one, aren't you?
Beth's father chuckles. "You refuse to fall in love, and I can't stop," he says, which suggests that getting married multiple times is, really, no biggie. For him, it's natural to fall in and out of love with the alacrity of a Chinchilla.
When Beth is on the brink of getting married herself, she asks Pops what the secret to marriage is—trying, in essence, to learn from his mistakes. He laughs this off, too, telling her that her marriage might wind up being a lifelong love story or a depressing flop. "You're not going to know unless you try," he tells her. "The passion is in the risk."
In case you're not already racing me for the DQ buzzer, I'll rebut Pops' perspective with this: Marriage is about so much more than passion, more than risk—more than a lottery ticket where the winners get fairy-tale endings and losers find divorce attorneys. Marriage is about commitment—commitment that holds firm through the fickle vagaries of human emotion. Yes, there's risk involved in it, but marriage should never be analogous to rolling the dice in a game of chance. Rather, it's like building a house: You check the foundation, you build the angles square, you make sure the place will last a lifetime.
That's how the greatest cities in the world worked their way into the history books, you know. Rome wasn't built in a day. Nor was it built on a bet.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Kristen Bell as Beth; Josh Duhamel as Nick; Anjelica Huston as Celeste; Danny DeVito as Al; Will Arnett as Antonio; Jon Heder as Lance; Dax Shepard as Gale; Alexis Dziena as Joan
January 29, 2010
June 15, 2010