Rome is a magical place where magical things happen. There are few modern cities with so much ancient history. There are few cities with such history that also have some of the most iconic food in the world. There are few cities with as many opportunities to make wishes in fountains or in churches. Hollywood clearly feels the same way that I do about the eternal city. Here are some of my favorite (and one not-so-favorite) movies that have featured Rome, not just as a setting, but as another character:
The Lizzie McGuire Movie
Probably the best movie of the bunch – work with me here. Lizzie heads to Rome on a school trip before high school and lives the freaking life (aka “what dreams are made of”) when she gets mistaken for a famous singer. Since much of the movie follows the rest of the students on their tour, they stop by some prime spots – the Trevi Fountain, the Forum, and the Spanish Steps. No movie set in Rome is complete without Vespas, but this is the one that made me want to ride one when I was in Italy. I didn’t get a chance to in Rome, since I have no likeness to an Italian popstar, but I did a few months later in NYC. It wasn’t quite the same, but it was still pretty great, but definitely not as great as the moment in the movie when (spoiler alert) Lizzie and the Italian singer she resembles sing on stage together at a music awards show taking place in the Colosseum, which I’m sure happens all the time.
Biggest guilt trip: Paolo, Lizzie’s new friend, when she doesn’t want to hang out, “It’s just that some people when they come to Rome, they want to find adventure.” Lizzie doesn’t bite and flawlessly responds, “It’s okay, I got some cool cheese!”
Gregory Peck (who I think looks like my grandfather) and Audrey Hepburn star in this 1953 classic which has been available on Netflix for as long as I can remember. Audrey plays Princess Ann who is tired of being under everyone’s watch. She escapes her accommodations during a press trip in Rome after what appears to be an overdose of sleeping meds, tells a cab driver she lives in the Colosseum, and ends up in the care of an American reporter, Joe Bradley. Princess Ann spends the next day doing “just whatever (she) like(s) the whole day long.” Doing whatever she likes includes visiting a market, playing with a live eel, getting her hair cut, and buying gelato. Joe and the Princess meet up for champagne at a sidewalk cafe, ride vespas to the Colosseum, try their hands at the Bocca della Verità, and end their day dancing on a boat.
Most Unbelievable Moment: When Princess Ann eats gelato on the Spanish Steps and throws out the cone. If you’ve eaten gelato in Italy, you know you wouldn’t waste a single bite.
Angels & Demons
You’re probably all familiar with Dan Brown’s beach reads following the trials of symbologist Robert Langdon (The DaVinci Code, Inferno). Angels and Demons was the first of the series. It is different than the other movies in this post as it’s not about food, romance, and finding yourself. This movie is about saving the city and its population from the explosion of antimatter within a matter of hours. It’s all about the history, art, and symbols of Rome and the Catholic church – which all roll deep in this city. Much of the movie takes place in the Vatican, including St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Peter’s Square, and the Vatican archives. Frantic visits are also made to the Pantheon, Santa Maria del Popolo, and Santa Maria della Vittoria.
Favorite scene-stealer: Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Four Rivers Fountain) in Piazza Navona during a pivotal dramatic moment with Tom Hanks and friends. This fountain is one of my favorite sights in Rome. The Nile, the Danube, the Rio de la Plata, and the Ganges are represented with their own gods and symbols of their respective regions carved into the stone by one of Rome’s finest, Bernini.
Eat Pray Love
Julia Roberts (as author Elizabeth Gilbert) eats in Italy, prays in India, and loves in Indonesia. While the India and Indonesia parts of the movie are much slower and not relevant to this post, the NYC part before she travels and the Italy part where she eats her face off are worth seeing if heading to Rome. The close-up pasta shots border on pornography and Liz says she is “having a relationship with (her) pizza” while on a side-trip to Naples. The Italian scenes of this movie are a reminder that you should always (and especially in Italy) eat whatever you want, even if your jeans become a little tight. This film also reminds visitors to Italy about the importance of “il dolce far niente” – “the sweetness of doing nothing.”
Favorite Quote: “Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.” (when talking about the ruins of Rome, but also the ruins of someone’s life.)
When in Rome (2002)
If you’re a fan of movies with plots, decent acting, and camera work that won’t make you nauseous, this movie is not for you. With that said, the Olsen twins do see a significant portion of Rome while interning for an international fashion brand. One of the twins takes pictures the whole movie and stills of some of Rome’s best scenes fill up a third of the screen time. But then the twins also call the Spanish Steps “the original stairmaster,” ask for bagels at a cafe, and call their boss “Mr. Tortellini.” They do spend a lot of time sitting in plazas and in front of the Pantheon flirting with boys, which gives the viewer a chance to see those plazas and forget the non-emotive dialogue for a few minutes. At least they eat their gelato properly, unlike Princess Ann, but they do call it “ice cream.” You can’t win them all.
Worst Two Minutes of the Movie (this was a difficult choice): Non-photographer Olsen twin trying to make espresso in a solo monologue scene with lots of added “clanging” and “steaming” sounds to show she’s really messing up big. She can’t figure it out and serves instant coffee (!) to her coworkers, causing her boss to declare that in Italy, “Coffee is as close to a religious experience as anything.”