Isn’t it Romantic is the perfect film for anyone who hate-watches romantic comedies, but deep-down really loves them. It’s sort of a genre parody that somewhat maddeningly tries to have it both ways. It skewers genre conventions but in the end, embraces what it loves about the romantic comedy, and while this is annoying in retrospect, you hardly notice while you’re watching the actual film. And it’s a good leading role (finally) for its star, Rebel Wilson.
Natalie (Wilson)’s mother always told her that girls like her aren’t meant for the rom-com Hollywood ending. She grew up to be a small-time New York architect with a somewhat jaded outlook on life. She tells her hopeful assistant (GLOW’s Betty Gilpin) about how destructive romantic comedy films are for women, and that night on her way home, she is mugged on the subway and hits her head and wakes up in a literal romantic comedy.
Isn’t It Romantic could be meaner. It could go darker and nastier. It’s more interesting as a movie about movies and genre conventions than an actual narrative. In the end, it ultimately embraces the rom-com tropes it mocks, but the movie verbally calls itself out for that. Of course, Natalie must love to love herself and embrace her flaws, just to check every box to ensure the audience doesn’t walk out with the wrong message. While this stops just short of being a straight parody, there is plenty to enjoy if you have a love-hate relationship with the romantic comedy. It’s funny, it’s biting, but in the end, when it becomes soft and gooey, you notice, but you barely even mind.
Rebel Wilson is an actress who I very much admire in her very specific comedy skillset, although I would appreciate it if she chose scripts that didn’t rely on fat jokes. I would also like to see her venture into some darker, more complicated roles because I believe she is up to the task. However, this is her first film where she’s first on the call sheet, and she proves herself quite capable of anchoring a film. Frequent Wilson co-star Adam DeVine is back, and the two have a natural chemistry that continues to shine through here.
Liam Hemsworth plays the snooty New York client that Natalie is trying to impress, and in the rom-com alternate universe, Natalie’s doe-eyed, hunky, Australian love interest. He’s extremely funny, and he’s finally learned a few lessons from his brother’s career. He’s learned how to capitalize on his own charm and the qualities that make him an entertaining performer. He’s essentially playing the parody of the dream-boat rom-com leading man, and he proves himself to be a gifted improviser in the process. Priyanka Chopra is also much funnier than expected, as a runway model and ‘yoga ambassador’ who enters the alternate universe as a romantic interest for Adam DeVine’s character, and she’s surprisingly funny as well. She’s game and goes for the broad, big laughs with admirable success.
Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson, this film’s world is vividly painted. The dreamlike rom-com world is like an exaggerated utopian version of New York City, where there’s a charming cupcake bakery on every street, and a bunch of charming little boutiques, instead of shady office buildings where you can get dental work done. We also have the random musical number and it’s directed with more substantial choreography than they need to be. And we have a curtain-call end credits musical number that brings the whole company together, and you almost wish this was conceived as an actual musical.
We are in the golden era of woman-bonks-herself-on-the-head-and-must-learn-lessons-about-life-love-and-how-to-love-herself, and Isn’t it Romantic is probably the best one in recent memory. It’s biting and clever enough to please the part of me that lives for film criticism but is also warm and genuine enough to melt my cynical heart when it counts. It’s got a talented cast that is going for it every step of the way and embraces every gag. It’s mercifully short, running under 90 minutes, and as such, the film does not wear out its welcome. It’s zippy, funny, entertaining and tailor-made for date night at the movies.