Isn’t It Romantic
Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson
Starring: Rebel Wilson, Betty Gilpin, Priyanka Chopra, Adam Devine, Liam Hemsworth
Rated PG-13 for language, some sexual material and a brief drug reference
1 hr. 29 min.
The brow-furrowing rumination and campaigning are over, the Hollywood statuary has been awarded, the expected (to Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody) and the surprising (Glenn Close’s Oscar loss to an equally deserving Olivia Colman). Before the first round of 2019 blockbusters, it’s time to enjoy a movie without needing to form one opinion or the other. Call it a motion-picture palate-cleansing, of sorts. The sorbet: Isn’t It Romantic.
This is a film genre that always aims to touch and please. The happy-ending genre, dismissed as “chick flicks” or admired as “date movies.” Who better than romantic comedy veterans Katie Silberman, Dana Fox and Erin Cardillo to write the screenplay then harness the talent of Rebel Wilson for a romcom about someone caught in a romcom? Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson, Isn’t It Romantic pokes fun at every aspect of the formula, with Wilson hitting all the marks, firing off wicked zingers and landing pratfalls like an old-time vaudevillian.
Wilson is Natalie, a New York architect leading a life nothing like the worlds inhabited by the typical female leads in romantic comedies. Her part of the city is gritty, her apartment is a rat’s nest, she puts up with a lot on the job and is too cynical to know her co-worker Josh (Adam Devine) has a crush on her. She lambastes romcoms as the devil’s panacea, luring the naïve into a false set of romantic expectations. Then, thrust upon her is a comedic device that’s been around at least since Mark Twain wrote A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: She gets mugged in the subway and suffers blunt force trauma (romcom fans will recognize the “transformation through bludgeoning” trope from movies such as I Feel Pretty and What Men Want). That knock on the head is always good for waking to another life, another world, another time. Hijinks ensue. For Isn’t It Romantic, it means Natalie regains consciousness in a squeaky-clean, lilac-smelling New York, with spacious, meticulously designed apartments overlooking Central Park and nary a person even remotely in need of a bath.
Suddenly, a hunky real-estate magnate (Liam Hemsworth) cannot resist her; the disheveled, grumpy neighbor she tolerates is, in a flash, a finger-snapping gay stereotype and close confidant; her work assistant, Whitney (Betty Gilpin), is now an iron-jawed, on-the-job competitor; and Josh, who once mooned over her, is engaged to a stunning model (Priyanka Chopra).
Imagine everything you’ve seen Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan or Renée Zellweger go through, getting sent-up with a big wink, a gentle nod and a tongue planted so firmly in cheek, they’d need a surgeon to get it out. In one homage to a romcom staple (a day rubbing elbows with the wealthy), Wilson turns up at a super-posh Hamptons estate, observing, “These lobsters are big as cats and tender as marshmallows!”
Isn’t It Romantic may be the brainchild of romantic comedy writers, who perform wrestlemania moves with their own stock-in-trade, but the parody is a means to a desired, familiar end. Wilson’s Natalie, the antithesis of the usual romcom heroine, finds happiness once her romp through a sanitized Big Apple is done. And it’s not a spoiler to say there’s a couple of Bollywood-style production numbers to further rib the genre for its more mawkish tendencies. In film, there’s nothing wrong with biting the hand that feeds it, so long as it’s done with love.
Before you gear up for this spring’s superheroes and serious, artistic efforts, why not have a good-natured laugh or two? Isn’t It Romantic delivers better than many of the movies it spoofs.