There’s something that immediately extinguishes the magic of a movie when the first words that flicker onto a screen say “sponsored by Fiat and Unilever”. There are more logos in the opening seconds of “Rio, I Love You” than the entirety of a NASCAR race. Am I watching a film or leafing through the advertisements of a Sunday newspaper? Once the flipbook of logos finish cascading off the screen, we are given a maudlin journey through Rio de Janeiro’s candied heart. The movie, an anthology of sorts, clumsily scuttles about locations in the aforementioned city. Some vignettes are breezy, some garish, some floridly whimsical. However that may be, all of the narratives share the same carbonated tone. We see slivers of light crosshatching shirts, romanticized sunsets, silhouettes of mountains, and fluffy sea foam – this is basically an expensive Super Bowl travel commercial.
In one scenario, there are ridiculous, superfluous shots of a woman in a sheer white button up shirt and black underwear. The room’s curtains are blowing against her face as the soft pattering of music envelopes the scene. But for what purpose? Are we watching a Versace cologne commercial or a movie? Later, there is a story about a quirky vagabond. How about a irascible celebrity and his glib driver? If that doesn’t work, there’s a short story where John Turturro dresses in a Tennessee Williams outfit while arguing in a poorly lit house.
Some of the tales are sappy, some of them uncoil like an EC Comics revenge tale. The problem? None of them are very good. Meanwhile, sweeping, sterile, and innocuously friendly coffee house music washes over every scene. “What happened?” one character asks. “Everything and nothing,” another responds. It’s a carousel of feigned existentialism that has about as much usefulness as a damp matchbook. None of the films in the Cities of Love franchise have turned out to be effective compendiums of beauty and malaise. Whether it be “New York, I Love You” or “Paris, je t’aime”, the movies feel as authentic to love as a painting in an Olive Garden. The images are present, but the heart is not.
“Rio, I Love You” — opening at Landmark’s Ken Cinema — pines to be a wistful postcard, a movie that is half-illusion and half-reality. But the florescent dance of light and geography is more hagiography than sincerity. This is a movie that reads like a cloying, saccharine sweet poem – a 99 cents store greeting card attempting to hide cheap sentiment by writing in cursive. And while it pains me to admonish a love letter to a place and feeling, perhaps Rio deserves more than a movie that relies on Instagram filters and forced serendipity to tell its story.