Romantic comedies have been around pretty much since the beginning of film in one form or another. Some are easy cash grabs that provides unhealthy and unrealistic fantasies about love and relationships while others go a little deeper and offer more substance. Regardless they all follow pretty predictable trends and its those trends and clichés that inspired a new comedy film “Isn’t It Romantic”. I say it all the time that comedy is not my favorite genre but considering how popular this film has been over this busy weekend I decided to give it a shot and see for myself how effectively this story tackles the rom-com genre and if it has anything more insightful to say than the movie’s it mocks. So, is “Isn’t it Romantic” really a clever send-up to one of the most popular movie genres around? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Isn’t It Romantic”.
“Isn’t it Romantic” follows insecure New York architect Natalie (Rebel Wilson), a cynic who believes the happiness presented in rom-coms is nothing more than fantasy. Natalie is friends with her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) and oblivious to the affection of her charming coworker and good friend Josh (Adam DeVine). She is also unable to work up the confidence to present her plans for a parking structure to a new attractive client named Blake (Liam Hemsworth). After an attempted mugging in a subway, Natalie hits her head and wakes up to find that she has been transported into the world of a PG-13 romantic comedy film. To escape back to reality Natalie faces cliché after cliché in an attempt to reach the “happily ever after” but soon discovers what all people learn in life, that true happiness isn’t about the fantasy but what you make of your own reality.
“Isn’t It Romantic” stars a slew of big names including Liam Hemsworth, Priyonka Chopra, Betty Gilpin and Adam DeVine, but the movie’s main focus is Rebel Wilson who, I’ll admit, has never really been my favorite comedian. In all honesty I usually find her to be quite annoying and an example of the kind of cheap comedic style that makes the genre so uninteresting to me. Leave it to a satirical movie like this to change my tune. Wilson is AWESOME in this film especially seeing as she’s the only self-aware character in the rom-com reality and one who is aware of the clichés she has to endure. Her timing is great, the material is downright hilarious and her ability to sell a character who is cynical but also feels genuinely insecure really helps drive home the best parts of this movie and everything it’s trying to represent. For the first time I found Wilson to be a joy to watch and I kind of wish we saw more performances like this from her.
The rest of the cast is just as much fun to watch even if Wilson gets the bulk of the screen time. Everyone plays a cliché in this film and they do it perfectly, from Liam Hemsworth’s pretty boy who is out of the lead’s league to Brandon Scott Jones’ purposefully insulting gay stereotype to Betty Gilpin’s hyper-competitive coworker with an unwarranted hatred toward Wilson’s Natalie. Everyone’s into it and the fact that they’re all ignorant of the fact that they are in a world of cliché’s makes it all the more hilarious as Wilson offers insight into how ridiculous these characters are. I especially loved Adam DeVine in this film whose character, the best friend love interest, actually doesn’t change much between the two realities. His personality remains consistent as a fun-loving, charming guy who is secretly crushing on the oblivious Natalie. It’s an important little detail that he remains the same in both worlds to represent Natalie’s fatal flaw, her inability to see love even when it’s realistically possible. DeVine is probably the funniest person other than Wilson in this picture. Simply put, the cast has fun with this movie and that plays a big part in why “Isn’t It Romantic” works so well.
The primary theme of “Isn’t It Romantic” is of course its satirical take on the clichés and expectations of romantic comedies and as someone who isn’t the biggest fan of that genre but understands the allure of it, I can say I had a genuinely good time watching what this movie had to offer. Rebel Wilson feels like the perfect person to take on a project like this and her character’s cynical perspective on life while everyone around her is oblivious presents us with a familiar narrative concept that still feels fresh and fun in how it’s adapted to the theme. The whole film is pretty much a straight up dose of reality for anyone who enjoys the rom-com genre examining how the clichés of such films negatively impact female empowerment, relationship expectations, self-esteem and self-worth, as well as stereotypes. It’s not the subtlest movie in the world, but that’s part of its charm if you ask me. The writing is sharp, insightful, and sufficiently critical of the genre while never feeling mean spirited. Essentially this is a romantic comedy for people who hate the typical romantic comedy, parodying almost everything those movies seem required to embrace while simultaneously exploring why these conventions work and continue to be so effective and drawing in an audience.
My favorite aspect of this film is one of the main themes explored through Rebel Wilson’s character Natalie, the idea of self love and no not the raunchy kind you’d expect a modern comedy to tackle. Natalie is a cynic who thinks little of herself and believes romantic comedies are ridiculous exaggerations of an unattainable reality. Yet when she’s thrown into that perfect world, a world that gives her almost everything she could ever want, all she wants to do is escape it. By the end of the film this evolves into an opportunity of growth for Natalie as she discovers that part of believing in the fairytale is believing that YOU are worth that happiness in the first place. While tackling themes like this “Isn’t It Romantic” is simultaneously harsh in its criticism of rom-coms while also exploring the other extreme, how refusing to embrace opportunities at happiness for fear that the fairytale can’t possibly be real can be just as damaging. And it’s all done in a tongue and cheek manner that inspires the viewer while making us laugh at the shortcomings of both reality and fantasy. It’s basic lesson is the perfect reality is actually somewhere in between the two extremes, which is a pretty deep message for a simple 1.5-hour satirical picture. Somehow it all works without ever feeling too serious and pretentious or ridiculous and over-the-top.
“Isn’t It Romantic” isn’t perfect though and, ironically enough, its flaws lie in its embrace of clichés and its predictable story beats. The setup is all too familiar with many comparing it to last year’s “I Feel Pretty”, an inferior film that also included a woman living a fantasy after a bump on the head. The story that takes place in the film’s real world follows the very same conventions that this movie is trying to expose. You can see every twist and turn coming a mile away as Natalie enters her alternate reality one way and returns to the real world a changed person. You know what’s going to happen, it’s telegraphed right from the start and the film never tries to even deny that it’s going to follow the same conventions it ridicules. Natalie’s reality and how she implements her life lessons feel more like phoned in book-ends that don’t try hard at all to offer anything new despite the film spending the bulk of its time exploring how cliché and poorly written these precise story beats tend to be. I love what the filmmakers and cast did with this film, really I do. But there was still plenty of room for more creative and inventive ways to not only set the story in motion but also bring its lessons and morals back to the real world effectively without having to resort to the same approach that nearly every romantic comedy seems to depend on to wrap things up.
“Isn’t It Romantic” is not a perfect film and somewhat betrays its own idea by embracing story elements that conform to the rom-com conventions it’s trying to satire, but in the end it succeeds a lot more than it fails. “Isn’t It Romantic” is hilarious, charming, and offers some great insight into the clichés and stereotypes everyone just seems to ignore in a frankly repetitive genre while also taking itself just seriously enough to offer a great life lesson about self-worth. With that said “Isn’t It Romantic” does something that few rom-coms can ever do quite right. It exposes the fantasy while simultaneously acknowledging why the genre is so beloved. It asks viewers to accept that the perfect reality is not found on a television screen and that love is never as simple as a “hello” or a spontaneous gesture. It takes time, work and commitment but it also requires you to be willing to admit you deserve that happiness in the first place. Even for a cynic like me that’s a message I can get behind and it’s a concept handled so well here that “Isn’t It Romantic” has become an immediate favorite in my book.