It could have been so easy to take down this movie. It’s dumb, it’s cutsie, it’s only got a so-so script, and the people in it are all too pretty in an offbeat sort of way. This is the bread and butter of reviewerdom: the gimmie review where you point out all of the shortcomings not just of a movie, but of an entire genre. And that is where the mistake lies.
When in Rome, like so many other romcoms, falls such easy prey to this roll down the window, fire a spray of automated gunfire, and streak away method of considering a movie. It’s easy source material, the language just breezes by, and pretty soon it’s time to call it an article and put it up online. But, like the drive-by it is a highly inaccurate method of picking out winners and losers, and an awful lot of innocent genre bystanders end up in the collateral damage column. So let’s make a list of the rules of bad genre movies that are made to be broken.
I saw the ending coming from the very beginning. The only reason that you see the ending coming is because you’ve seen it before. Or you’re very clever. Neither of these is the movie’s fault, though. Unless the foreshadowing was laid on too thick or Puggy has spoiled the ending for you on purpose, this is not a sign of lack of creativity, nor is it a good enough reason to deny the quality of a film. I mean, seriously, everyone knew the ending of Titanic going into the theater, and it was still widely enjoyed. Make you feel less clever yet?
I didn’t really believe the characters. I’m guilty of this one. I want real, gutsy, intellectual characters who do precisely what I (imagine that I) would have done in the situation. First of all, there is no movie about me probably because I’m not that interesting. Second of all, the world is a broad, broad place with people who do all kinds of outrageous, irrational things. Sure, a movie is a collection of an improbably dense selection of these irrational characters, but that’s often the point of a movie – to look at the extremes of human (or non-human) behavior. Thirdly, Princess Bride hits my top ten list of movies for all time. Show me a single character in that whole movie that actually makes sense. Go ahead.
It was trying too hard. In most genres, the ending is already known. We’ve already covered that. What’s left between the opening scenes and the pre-ordained ending (hero gets girl, hero beats villain, hero sighs with self-awareness… take your pick) is the effort that every member of the production team puts into it. I’m not excusing stilted, poorly-delivered lines. I’m just saying that sometimes over-the-top is just as good a game as carefully controlled. See Keven Smith. The whole library. He apologized to the admirers of the noble armadillo, for goodness’ sake.
I don’t think they should have ended up together. I’m actually usually on the opposite side of this, but that’s my American taste showing. European film prefers a more pensive, what do you really want kind of ending. I like Cinderella in a pumpkin carriage, thankyouverymuch. So I’m not that sympathetic on this one. On my list of improbable couples with no real future (and low likelihood in the first place): Kat and Patrick from 10 Things, Baby and Johnny from Dirty Dancing, any given couple from The Breakfast Club, and Selene and Michael from Underworld. If you want an explanation on why these are skepticism-inducing couples, we’ll talk, but the pool is deep. The point is that good movies can have unconvincing relationships. We buy into sci-fi contraptions and arbitrary rules of physics; the rules of relationships are equally fair game. This is not a disqualifying characteristic for a good movie.
It was just too perky/cute. If you’re really that jaded an individual, I’ll let you have this one, but you had better not smile when you watch this:
I didn’t get his motivation. It’s a classic action complaint, and it’s why they kept snatching Bruce Willis’ kids. You can’t question a man crawling through air shafts on Christmas Eve for his kids, now can you? A man wandering about killing people without obvious motivation would typically be diagnosed as a psychopath, and rightfully so, so we arm our heroes with flimsy motivation and send them off to war. I’m with you here. Even the classic deep well of heroic drive, vengeance, is questionable when you hold it up in the light of day. Is it really okay for a man to head off into the wild blue yonder to slay everyone associated with the murder of his daughter/kidnapping of his wife/death of his son/neglect of his mother? Probably not, but if you start looking at the credibility of motivation of every lead in a movie, you spoil most all of them, I promise. To pick a few at random, I’m uncomfortable with the chaos that would have been unleashed after the end of Equilibrium, I don’t think that Emily demonstrated enough depth to warrant the devotion that Brendan showed in Brick, and the Woodman’s motivation is nothing if not questionable in Hoodwinked. All three are still great movies that take detached, analytical thought to pick out the issues with them. Okay, maybe not Hoodwinked, but all the same. There’s a sliding scale of agreeability here, and absolute logic is not the only target.
For every rule, there is an exception, and for every broad complaint, there is an example of someone who does it well. Poking holes in a movie with heavy sarcasm and broad generalizations is hardly sporting, any more than is the practiced drive-by. Movies like When in Rome, Bride Wars, and 27 Dresses too often get caught in the cross-fire, and I’m not going to put up with it. Because some of them are an awful lot of fun, anyway.