“ISN’T IT ROMANTIC” IS “THE LAST ACTION HERO” FOR THE ROMANTIC COMEDY AND IT WILL LEAVE A SMILE ON YOUR FACE
The mocking of romantic comedies is nothing new, but the new romantic comedy “Isn’t It Romantic” is for people who both love and hate romantic comedies. If you love them it is a celebration of the genre. If you hate them, you’ll love how the movie mocks it so mercilessly. It is the “Last Action Hero” for the romantic comedy.
As a child Natalie (Rebel Wilson) was a huge fan of rom-coms growing up. The film opens with her watching the best film of the genre, Julia Roberts and Richard Gere’s “Pretty Woman”. Her mother (Jennifer Saunders) advises her not to believe in such fairy tales because they aren’t meant for women like them. As an adult Natalie no longer believes in those clichés and realizes that real life romances don’t end up in the cookie cutter way romantic comedies fantasizes them to be. One day when her office mate Whitney (Netflix’s “Glow’s” Betty Gilpin) who loves romantic comedies and tries to watch one during work, it sets off a tirade of negativity from Natalie. At Whitney’s suggestion that Natalie needs to open herself up to the possibility of romance, Natalie’s flirty eye connects with a guy on the subway and it leads to a different kind of contact, one of an attempted mugging and a head injury to Natalie.
When she wakes up, Natalie’s world is now in one of the romantic comedies that she hates with all of the generic and cheesy tropes that come along with it. The grimy, crowded New York streets are now sun-kissed and full of color and freshly cut flowers. Whitney has been transformed from her mousey friend into a vindictive office witch; her shady neighbor Donny (Brandon Scott Jones) is now her stereotypically gay friend; and she’s suddenly caught the eye of a hunky real estate investor played by Liam “I’m No Chris” Hemsworth who surprisingly has a light comedic touch. He wouldn’t have given her the time of day in her real world, but has now fallen head over heels for her. The only one who didn’t undergo drastic change is Natalie’s best friend and obvious soulmate, Josh (Adam Devine), who sees all good things in her. The only problem, is that he has fallen prey to a different rom-com trope when he gets engaged to a gorgeous supermodel and yoga ambassador (played by the unbelievably beautiful Priyanka Chopra from “Quantico”) who is clearly wrong for him.
When Natalie wakes up from being mugged and she awakens to a picturesque, fantastical version of Manhattan. It looks like it was ripped from a Williams Sonoma catalogue by way of a bubbly romantic comedy like “13 Going on 30”. The catch of the rom-com world she is stuck in, is that there’s no swearing as the four-letter curse word she tries to utter are literally bleeped by the sound of delivery trucks backing up to retain a PG-13 rating. Or the fact there is no possibility of sex. Like the PG-13 romantic comedies it’s all before and after fade outs, but if “Isn’t It Romantic” was following the R rated rom-com tropes all that would be a different story.
Writer-director Todd Strauss-Schulson, who has satirized another genre in a previous film with the horror slasher subgenre in 2015’s “The Final Girls”, he does the same thing here but to much better effect with rom-coms. “Isn’t It Romantic” not only understands the tropes of cinematic love stories, but also knows how to comedically reference them while also keeping Natalie’s personal journey in a serious tone. The results are sweet, funny and energetic, running at a tight 88 minutes. Even the soundtrack is adeptly chosen, with the use of Annie Lennox’s “No More I Love You’s”, Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” or Swing Sisters “Breakout”.
The true highlight of the film is a musical number set to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” which is irresistibly buoyant. If your an inspiring filmmaker and planning to have your characters break-out in song and dance, this is the prime example of how to do it. What a sequence. The film doesn’t have a mean bone in its body. And because of co-screenwriters Katie Silberman and Dana Fox, who have written a fantastically funny, sweet and perfect homage to the rom-com, have comically parodied the genre previously with Rebel Wilson co-starring alongside Dakota Johnson in the excellent “How To Be Single”. Cinematographer Simon Duggan’s camera shoots everything pastel bright like if it were an Ikea catalogue, including Natalie’s transformed apartment which looks magazine spread ready.
Rebel Wilson is beguiling and perfectly casted in her first leading lady role. She heightens the film’s already high kinetic energy with her unfakeable warmth. Wilson commits to making every one of the rom-com tropes endearing, no matter how silly they are. She also has terrific chemistry with Adam Devine, in which they have established a work relationship through their romantic squabbles in the “Pitch Perfect” movies.
The film’s core message of self acceptance rings real, giving it a deeper conflict than just which guy she ends up with. Along her time in the rom-com alternate she calls out the cliches of the genre, and giving us the greatest examples of those cliches. I was throughly entertained by the film from start to finish and loved everything about it. So much so I wanted to watch it again as soon as the film was over. You’ll have a big smile on your face the whole movie.
GRADE: ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★★