Rome in Love (2019)

If you’re going to make a movie based on another movie, especially if the latter is a classic, you have to assume the audience will draw comparisons. Such is the case with Rome in Love, a movie inspired by the 1953 film Roman Holiday. There’s no way I’m watching this without thinking of Audrey Hepburn inching her hand towards the Mouth of Truth or Gregory Peck, well, looking beautiful. That doesn’t mean I’m against remakes and adaptations; I’m totally on board with this movie’s concept, which is a behind-the-scenes romance that takes place during a fictional Roman Holiday remake. But even as it takes some liberties, Rome in Love comes up short and will have you longing for the original.

The problem lies less with the story than with the casting, although the narrative gets tangled in a few superfluous plot lines. This story at least draws on something besides a reunion with the high school boyfriend or a trip home to save the family ranch. The romance instead mirrors that of Hepburn and Peck’s characters as actor Amelia Tate (Italia Ricci) falls for writer Philip Hamilton (Peter Porte). Having all but giving up her acting career, Amelia gets a break when she’s chosen as the new Princess Ann. The production team, however, wants to keep her identity under wraps until a grand press reveal that includes a magazine profile. Philip, who juggles multiple identities as a hotel porter, waiter, and writer, nabs the plum assignment, presumably because he’s American and Hallmark’s closest facsimile to Peck. As she prepares for her role and he tries to dig into her life story, the two begin to lean on each other, and thus a beautiful romance is born.

At least that’s what’s supposed to happen. It turns out you need more than a Roman background and strangers abroad story; you also need actors to sell the love affair, and Ricci and Porte just don’t rise to the occasion. Of the two, Porte fares better, mostly because Philip is a less demanding character, and Porte scrabbles enough charm and grit to give Philip his humble suitor credentials. Ricci is completely miscast, however, and never quite nails Amelia’s complexity. Some of that is down to the writing. Amelia is supposed to be a fresh face ready to take on the part of an inexperienced princess but also a woman who feels like the boat has sailed on her dreams. Even the best actor might struggle to pull off a thirtysomething ingénue. Ricci though doesn’t begin to bridge the two and weighs the whole story down with a depressing seriousness. Amelia’s disappointment is one of the more intriguing things about her. I love the idea of a character who thinks the best is past, who is naïve about Hollywood stardom but who also has the life experience to handle it with fortitude. Unfortunately, Amelia is far more reminiscent of Ricci’s role in Designated Survivor, where she plays a steely political operative, than of a wide-eyed princess romping about town with a stranger.

Imagining different leads wouldn’t solve all the movie’s problems though, and the narrative could do with some trimming. With a few lovely shots of Rome to accompany the story, this film is a case of less being more. The sneaky paparazzo (Gian Marco Tavani) out to scoop Philip, for example, distracts from Philip’s more touching relationship with his elderly neighbor.

Released: 2019
Dir: Eric Bross
Writer: Topher Payne
Cast: Italia Ricci, Peter Porte, Ross McCall, Barbara Bouchet, Vincent Riotta, Helen Pearson, Isabelle Connolly, Anna Manuelli, Jonathan Stoddard, Gian Marco Tavani
Time: 90 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2020