Friday, March 13, 2009

Movies: Roman Holiday

People love Audrey Hepburn, but she’s a bit fragile for my taste. She is, though, perfectly cast as a princess taking the day off, shifting back and forth between the royal beauty’s air of entitlement and propriety and the nervous, zesty girl getting her first taste of plebian life (drinking, driving, brawling, and spending the night in a man’s apartment—though all in a perfectly innocent way). The movie, unsurprisingly, struggles to live up to its fame; Audrey is delicate, Gregory Peck is startling in that fine-hewn, 1950s American way, and their antics are sweet. But like so many sweet things, their story is unnatural—do we really believe that the medicated but headstrong princess, once escaped from her caretakers, having fallen asleep in the street, would be so lucky as to be found by a begrudgingly well-meaning American journalist, handsome to boot? It’s easy to believe he’d plan to sell her out, bringing his buddy aboard to snap candid photos of her misdemeanors, and even easy to believe that he would be so touched by her graceful innocence that he’d decide, after 24 hours, to keep the story to himself—once we’ve bought into the initial absurdity. And the cool, quiet, rejection of the usual happily-ever-after ending, in which the princess and journalist share a cordial, public goodbye, is so level-headed that it makes up for all the earlier leaps of fantasy.

And so, yes, the film is sweet, nice, fun. . . but to what end? It’s not particularly deep or challenging or lasting. It’s kind of like a can of soda. There is nothing—in all its famous shots—the Vespa, the Mouth of Truth, the royal gown—to sear our hearts or minds. I expect a movie this famous, this loved, to leave indelible marks on my memory. I’ve had chicken sandwiches more compelling than this movie.

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