Museums in Movies: When In Rome

This is an installment in an occasional series about depictions of museums in film. What elements of these movie reflect real life, and what is pure Hollywood fantasy?

Ever since I saw the trailer for When in Rome, I was curious about the fact that Kristen Bell’s character, Beth,  is a curator at the Guggenheim museum. Could a chick flick present the job accurately?. Now that it’s on Netflix instant,  I figured I should give it a try and see how realistic the curator heroine’s life was. Here’s what the film got right:

  • The Guggenheim website lists 15 curators, not all of whom have PhDs, so it’s not entirely impossible that Beth could get an assistant position with just an M.A. (The film makes no comments on her credentials or education.)
  • Much of of Beth’s job involves extracting large donations from wealthy patrons on the board of trustees.
  • Beth seems quite familiar with the museum’s permanent collection, and gives private tours to potential investors.
  • Beth fell in love with the Guggenheim visiting it as a child. If you ask any of my grad-school classmates they can tell you about fond childhood memories of museums or antiquing.
  • Beth’s boss, a Miranda Priestly clone played by Anjelica Huston, wears statement jewelry and does not tolerate personal lives interfering in work. This caricature of an uber-curator scowls at the prospect of Beth being out of town for her sister’s wedding.
  • Unlike her angelic sister, Beth has not been lucky in love, no doubt because her manic career goals in graduate school sapped her emotional energy.

Okay, that’s about it. Sadly, there’s a lot more that doesn’t make any sense. This character might as well be a journalist or fashion designer or other generic chick flick job.

  • Despite her low-ranking position, Beth makes enough money for a sizable Manhattan apartment. So does her suitor, who works in the even more financially doomed field of print media.
  • Beth doesn’t believe in magic, despite that fact that she has her dream job at the museum she loved as a child.
  • Although Beth does curate an exhibition, her job really seems to be more event planning than scholarship. Why the heck is she assembling gala programs at her home? That’s the development department’s job! Her choice of 3Oh!3 songs as the soundtrack to an exhibit opening suggests either an attempt to be relevant to young urbanites or the emotional maturity of a 15 year old .
  • For someone with at least an M.A. in art history, Beth seems pretty oblivious about Europe. In her staff meeting, she has to specify that her sister’s speedy wedding will occur in Rome, Italy. (So… not the one in Texas?) The fact that the Guggenheim has a branch in Venice makes this really inexcusable.
  • To make matters worse, once she gets herself off a plane and into a Roman taxi, Beth takes no interest in scenic views of architecture or statuary. PUH-LEASE. Even my most iPhone addicted colleagues would stop checking email to, I dunno, gawk at the art they have chosen as their life’s work.

So, you’re probably thinking, “Whatever Sarah, is this still a fun movie?” Um no. It’s horrible. It’s an accidental satire of romantic comedies. Characters say lines like: “He didn’t really love you, he was just under a magic spell!”;
“I just realized I love Nick more than my job!”;
and in the “I love you” reveal – “No, no, you go ahead and say it.”

Just when I thought things might not be completely predictable, there were both a race through traffic at a critical moment and a runaway bride. What, you didn’t have time for someone to dash through an airport?

In the end, I decided to enjoy When In Rome by accepting it as a total slapstick farce, something like a really bad Marx brothers movie. After all, Beth’s four magic fountain stalkers are practically a Chico and three Harpos. Also, the scenes in Italy are about as authentic as this number from the Marx’s A Night at the Opera. Hmm, the Marx brothers at the Guggenheim – now there’s an exhibit I would curate.