Romantic comedies have a very basic formula. Most of them are about a career-driven woman whose life is given value when she falls in love with a man. Isn’t It Romantic is about a woman who despises that formula with a fiery passion. Then, she hits her head during a fight with a mugger and wakes up inside of a romantic comedy. It is a really clever idea that serves as a fairly good sendup of the genre. Unfortunately, despite its protagonist’s pessimism, it is also very much a romantic comedy itself. Even though it mocks the formula, that does not help it avoid falling into those same traps.
A relatively subdued Rebel Wilson is Natalie, a lonely woman employed at an architecture firm where she is treated like a gofer. Men tend to ignore her and, as a result, she does not believe in love. After the aforementioned concussion, her world is completely different. She is a respected architect with a stereotypical gay best friend, huge apartment and fabulous wardrobe. Plus, men are now fascinated by her. What makes the movie go is it mostly stays true to its main character’s personality, never making her totally conform to the formula.
Isn’t It Romantic (84 minutes without the end credits) is a meta-comedy that is successful partly because it sidesteps becoming outright parody. It grounds itself using Natalie’s outlook and an enjoyable performance from Rebel Wilson. She is the key here since a slightly more emotional or sentimental turn would have negated the entire premise. The audience has to believe she hates the situation she is in, even as she plays along with it. She gets the majority of the good lines (though Adam Devine has a few and Liam Hemsworth makes the most of a character intended to be a cliché) and her energy is enough to get past a lot of the rough spots.
The problem with lovingly poking fun at a genre is you run the risk of following it down the exact same path you are making fun of. Isn’t It Romantic becomes what it is mocking, making it difficult sometimes to figure out if it is making fun of romcoms or Natalie’s hatred of them (I am pretty sure it is generally the former). It is funny when it points out the lame dialogue and contrived plot points. However, when it comes to stuff like the gay sidekick or unnecessary musical numbers, it mainly repeats them without adding anything. There is also not much of an attempt to comment on Natalie’s biggest issue with romcoms: they create unrealistic expectations for women while making them think their life is only complete with a man to take care of them. This does lead her to a mini-moment of self-realization, but it is mostly ignored until then.
Isn’t It Romantic wants to be two things at once. Amazingly, it kind of succeeds. I laughed a decent amount, both because the concept has some good twists to it and Rebel Wilson is quite funny here. That said, I wish the screenplay had fully committed to its cynical setup. It gets about halfway there before its sweet side takes over. The last act feels like a bit of a cop-out. I enjoyed the movie overall, yet I cannot help but think a snarkier version of this story would have been even better.
3 out of 5
Rebel Wilson as Natalie
Adam Devine as Josh
Liam Hemsworth as Blake
Priyanka Chopra as Isabella
Betty Gilpin as Whitney
Brandon Scott Jones as Donny
Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson
Screenplay by Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox and Katie Silberman