When In Rome (Review)

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Recipe for When in Rome: Take 1 bland, expressionless leading lady, 1 male counterpart so average it hurts, a handful of trite, obnoxious supporting characters, mix them all together in a bowl of exploitative, sexist, depressing, repressing and suppressing ideology, and send it to hell to bake for 91 minutes. Congratulations director Mark Steven Johnson, it came out perfectly!

More disgusting and disturbing a film than any torture-porn out there, When in Rome is a vile retreat into gender stereotypes and male worship, a film that stitches together every one-dimensional character, every flat, overplayed joke, and every pig-headed idea of love that the movies have ever provided us into something truly terrible.

Beth (Kristen Bell) is a working girl who just can’t seem to get love right. In Rome for her sister’s wedding, Beth steals a variety of coins from a magical fountain in spite of romance and happy-endings, unknowingly cursing those whose coins were picked to fall in love with her.

Unfortunately, the film’s idea of love is in fact dangerous obsession, infatuation that drives Beth’s four suitors to the brink of rape. Sexual playfulness is disturbingly forward and suggestive, especially played out in one scene where Beth’s suitors surround her in the dark while wearing night vision goggles.

Exactly as it is, When in Rome has the potential to be a devastating and gruesome drama or horror film, the telling of a young woman in constant fear for her life and chastity. And what’s most distressing is that the film’s creators thought this was funny, oblivious to the connotations of two grown men breaking into a girl’s apartment, armed with a video camera, to “win her love.”

Although parading as a romantic comedy, a genre that is supposed to unite the sexes and champion equality and togetherness, When in Rome subjugates the role of women into three distinct categories. First, the clumsy workaholic, whose life is miserable because it lacks a male influence.

Beth loves her job, but society deems her unhappy because she hasn’t found a man yet. She has faith in herself and wants eagerly to be independent, but ultimately she cannot survive without a man to lead her. She can’t even hail a taxi correctly: her crush has to step in and take control.

Second, the ditsy romantic. This woman is stupid, but lovable because she believes in fairytale endings, which, in the film’s terms, have Mr. Right swooping in and putting out all the fires set by the women.

And third, the cold-hearted shrew, the woman professional Beth has a chance of becoming. An idea sparked by Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada and perpetuated by MTV “reality,” any woman who is in charge is made of stone and lives a life Ebenezer Scrooge would malign.

These are the women of When in Rome. The men are almost worse, but I’ll save you from that list.

The film is one of the worst acted I have ever experienced. I didn’t think it was possible, but Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) physically hurt me with his bad acting. As wooden and shallow as they come, every word that left his mouth deserved a cringe.

Relying on cheap head-bonks and pratfalls, the film is a tasteless mess of dead jokes. With more senseless mutilation than “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” When in Rome has no sense of humor; in fact, leaving this film, I felt every emotion — sadness, anger, guilt, mistrust — but happiness.

The worst part of the film, however, is how it exploits its audience, especially young women. Using pop culture as its guide, it tries to come up with the best combination, the best recipe, for what women want to see: a historic, idealized city; a lavish wedding; a hustle-and-bustle lifestyle appreciating art and organizing events; a sensitive, but confident, man who will take care of his girl.

With all of these tricks at its disposal, When in Rome lures in its audience, only to propagate an overbearing male agenda.

Romantic comedies (I propose we find a new generic title that doesn’t conjure images of Some Like It Hot and Annie Hall; how about: time wasters?) have been lost to the condescending, artistically challenged ways of When in Rome. What used to be genuine emotion has been replaced with robotic repetition, film that lies and warps and seethes and multiplies. Parasitic film.

This is a great shame, one that can’t wait any longer to be remedied, but I fear may never be.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When making movies, do the opposite of this film.


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