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‘Isn’t it Romantic’ blurs the line between the parody and homage of corny romantic comedies

February 23, 2019
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Rebel Wilson, left, and Liam Hemsworth in a scene from “Isn’t It Romantic.”

“Isn’t it Romantic” is the perfect Rebel Wilson vehicle. The unconventionally attractive Aussie rose to fame playing the quirky side-girl in films such as “Bridesmaids” and the “Pitch Perfect” franchise. Her comedic charm comes from heckling her movies from within and essentially throwing quotation marks around the absurdity of the whole premise. Here she is given the reins to perform that exact task in a feature that allows her to be the main character in a world where she would never be the main character.

Wilson stars as Natalie, a struggling 20-something toiling as an underappreciated architect in New York City. Her employers ignore her, her coworkers don’t respect her, and she lives in a cramped studio apartment in a noisy and crime-ridden neighborhood (that one would still need to be making a lot of money to afford).

Her best friend at work Josh (Adam Devine) has a secret crush on her but Natalie has given up on the prospect of finding love through the cute happenstances that are often portrayed in romantic comedies. Her outlook on life is put to the test when after a violent mugging in the subway, she awakes in a world typical of the syrupy rom-coms she despises. Strange men declare their love after one chance encounter, song-and-dance numbers spontaneously erupt, everyone is ridiculously attractive, and most importantly, everything about Natalie’s life, from the size of her apartment to the attitudes of her coworkers, has been drastically improved.

The only way Natalie can restore her regular life is to make a charming millionaire (Liam Hemsworth) fall in love with her — or so she thinks.

Director Todd Strauss-Schulson clearly had fun playing around with genre tropes. Often the comedy comes less from the performances or dialogue and more from the painstaking details in wardrobe, set design, score and lighting. Every scene set in the rom-com universe opens with a nonsensical swooping or swirling crane shot and it would behoove viewers to pay attention to background details like extras and billboard signage, where they will find countless other nods to the romantic comedy style throughout the film.

It’s not terribly difficult or original to point out the unrealistic nature of the average romantic comedy as established by the work of Garry Marshal, Nancy Meyers or Nora Ephron. Strauss-Schulson not only simulates these tropes, he understands why these contemporary fantasies resonate in the first place, leading to the warmth and familiarity that audiences expect from the genre. This leads to internal hypocrisy in which the film both wants to mock the rom-com premise and play it for sincerity. The ethos of the plot is not the core concern of this story and as such its themes about female empowerment and media-inspired wish fulfillment come off as wishy-washy.

“Isn’t it Romantic” is a moderately capable comedy, if not a little trite and underwhelming. The satire is dulled for unironic hearts and butterflies and Wilson isn’t given as much as I’d like to see from her as a lead, but the world building is thorough, and the tone is likable. Ultimately this ends up being a corny movie about corny movies but I can’t say I had a bad time watching it.

Grade: B-

Cassidy Robinson is a former Idaho State University student with a master’s degree in film studies from Orange County’s Chapman University. He freelances for both print and online outlets.