Disney rom-com sticks to the formula

As a rule, romantic comedies are nothing but big phonies. They portray happy couples experiencing whirlwind emotions of love, but viewers are inevitably forced to return to their own depressing realties. When it’s all said and done, a romantic comedy isn’t all that different from an outright fantasy.

Amore · Josh Duhamel and Kristen Bell star in When In Rome. - Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Even with this all-too-familiar fact in mind, When in Rome — Disney’s most recent attempt at the genre — pulls audiences into the story and leaves them wishing that real-life love could be like the story developing on screen in front of them.

Kristen Bell plays Beth, a successful art curator, who — like most rom-com protagonists — is unlucky, unwilling and untrusting when it comes to love. Beth’s Roman holiday begins when she jumps on a plane to the Italian capital for her sister’s wedding. Among the beautiful Pantheon, Coliseum and Piazza Navona lays the most important monument in the film: the Fountain of Love.

None of these sights seem to catch Beth’s gaze until the clumsy and tall — but extremely charming — best man Nick (Josh Duhamel) walks through the church doors.

Save for a few awkward encounters, the night seems to be going smoothly until Beth decides to cheat the magic of love and steal people’s coins from the fountain. In Beth’s battle to keep away from three hilariously weird men — all of whom fell in love with her because of a vaguely described enchantment — she ends up pushing away the most important people in her life.

When in Rome follows the formulaic story line of most romance movies: A problem is followed by further catastrophe that pleasantly transforms into a happily-ever-after. But as long as you don’t go in expecting the unexpected, Bell, Duhamel and the rest of the cast do a good job of dazzling and entertaining.

Bell’s sweet and strong portrayal of Beth makes her relatable, while Duhamel’s sexy and helplessly romantic act has female hearts swimming in all directions. In fact, the casting is one of the best parts of this film. Without Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder and comedians Will Arnett, Dax Shepard and the unforgettable Danny DeVito, the movie would not have achieved the same measure of pleasantly uncomfortable humor. Each of the four men brings his own dimension of creepy awkwardness to the film. Most alarming was Heder’s neverending and extremely obscure magic tricks. His ways of wooing were blatantly unattractive, but he remained confident in his “skill.”

Viewers can expect to burst out laughing a few times throughout the movie, with a couple of giggles sprinkled in-between. When in Rome executes the objective of comedy successfully; certain scenes are quite original and freshly entertaining. The creators fully exploited their arsenal of physical comedy, so expect to see a lot of clumsy trips and hits.

All the same, certain scenes had audiences scratching their heads. When in Rome reminds audiences that cheesiness is the foundation of the romantic comedy (recall Nick’s “The only spell I’m under is you” gem from the teaser trailers). One wonders if screenwriters expect audiences to believe that couples really spew these sappy sayings at a moment’s whim.

Like most films, When in Rome has lessons to be learned. Along with watching beautiful Italians, DeVito crammed in a yellow clown car and the inspiring model for a lasting relationship, hopefully the audience takes away a few hints for leading a fulfilling life. The film suggests that people should avoid the tendencies to be a workaholic, constantly uptight and overly judgmental at any cost.

But the simple lesson at the heart of When In Rome is the encouragement of love for others. Whether it be for friends or significant others, the film implies that standing by another person’s side is far more important than actually discovering true romance.

To hell with the depressing reality of romantic comedies.Audiences will enjoy some chuckles, learn the potency of a few highly sentimental, highly effective catchphrases and forget that the story of Beth and Nick will most likely never apply to them.