Perhaps worst of all are the little snippets that are clearly meant to act as comic relief. A moment with an all-too-interested hotel waiter, inexplicable karaoke, and a singing-in-the-shower sequence –it all feel so completely out of place, it’s hard not to cringe.
As we find out more and more about Alba and Natasha, a few themes begin to emerge. First, a none-too-subtle commentary on intimacy versus technology and the vastness of our world – brought up multiple times by Alba’s amazing Earth-sized magical Internet map. The lovers show each other their towns and houses, in Spain and in Russia. Later, as their lies fade away into more concrete truths (is Natasha a tennis player? Let’s check for a court by her house!), they consult the maps for more details to prove each others’ stories.
The renaissance art that decorates Alba’s room serves, not only as a frequent conversation piece (both women are art and history aficionados), but as a purveyor of even-less-subtle metaphor. At one point, we zoom in on Cupid’s portrait just as Alba is overcome with feelings of love for Natasha. For all its lush cinematography and arty metaphors, this is most certainly not an understated film.
In comparing the overall experience, two other films come to mind. Meden’s Sex and Lucia, with its frank sexuality, goofy sense of humor, and touch of magical realism, is the first and the strongest. It’s no stretch to say the director is drawing from his own work in Room in Rome.
An inescapable, if less directly comparable, piece is the erotic graphic novel series, The Lost Girls, which featured three women talking about their lives in between having passionate sex with one another. Much like our silver screen heroines, the protagonists in the novel begin with lies and gradually uncover dark secrets and ugly truths about one another.
Of course, The Lost Girls starred bizarre-o versions of Wendy Darling (Peter Pan), Alice (you guessed it, Alice in Wonderland), and Dorothy Gale (The Wizard of Oz), but the story structure and the half-cocked tone are one in the same.
The soundtrack is big, beautiful, and utterly out of place. Bold and colorful, a collection of hyperactive opera-meets-tango tunes that swell and rise with the action then, drop out completely once the moment has passed. It feels like riding an emotional subway – speedy swells and rushes come to abrupt stops, then build and crash again. It will either infuriate or exhilarate you.
The theme song is a gorgeous, unusual folk ballad, “Loving Strangers,” which weaves in and out of the movie. It’s a beautiful song, with a banjo bass line and a lilting vocal, but its sound doesn’t really fit the nature of an erotic drama. Did I mention there’s a banjo?
Your mileage with the film will vary a great deal, depending on your tastes. It’s always wonderful to watch beautiful women cavort playfully, to talk art and love, and most of all, enjoy wildly passionate sex. The film is beautifully crafted, with out-of-this-world cinematography and strong performances.
Ultimately, Room in Rome is a meandering, tonally bizarre, two hours of sex scenes, over-the-top dialogue and a decidedly over-enthusiastic soundtrack. If that sounds fantastic to you, you’ll adore the film, but viewers who expect a more concrete narrative experience will be disappointed. While it certainly has its strong points, your Room in Rome won’t be without cost.
Room in Rome is currently playing on demand on the Independent Film Channel, and will be released on DVD, February 2011.