I can say with some certainty that “When in Rome” isn’t the worst romantic comedy in theaters this month (that would be, alas, “Leap Year“), but it’s nothing to get excited about, either. When you start wondering, during the movie, why the Guggenheim Museum would hire a bunch of teenagers (I think, in an attempt to make perky Kristen Bell seem older, the filmmakers surrounded her with younger-looking actors, the result being that the office seems like some strangely overproduced high-school play, with Anjelica Huston dropping in now and again), or worrying that Bell’s pivotal-to-the-plot wading in a Roman fountain is going to wreck her pretty dress, or pondering whether Josh Duhamel’s jaw is all his (the guy does look like he’s been Photoshopped) . . . well, it means the movie isn’t entirely working. But hey, I’ve seen worse. Quite recently.
And you’d think that filmmakers would be wary about making a romantic comedy set (in this case, partly) in Rome, when one of the greatest rom-coms ever was made there. I kept thinking of “Roman Holiday,” all through “When in Rome,” in the way that you think about a really good lunch when you’re having a Luna Bar instead. Audrey Hepburn, then in her early 20s, won an Oscar for her first starring role: a carefree princess who runs away for a bit of adventure in Rome and meets an American reporter (Gregory Peck). They ride a Vespa, flirt over a stone statue, tour the city, and fall in love — and it’s utterly irresistible. Pretty much every rom-com filmmaker of the past few years would do well to study this movie to see what genuine movie-star chemistry looks like, and to experience something rare on screen these days: As the star falls in love with her co-star, the audience falls in love with the stars.
Audrey Hepburn, getting cinema’s most adorable haircut.