Romantic comedies… you love them, you hate them… however, this time of the year movie viewers are usually forced to put up with them. The well-known (and age old) sub-genre often struggles with its relatability, its genre structure and its general construction. “Rom-coms” often find themselves the butt of jokes… is it deserved? Isn’t It Romantic hits theaters this week and the film takes an interesting, comedic spin on the well-known tropes.
Isn’t It Romantic follows Natalie (Rebel Wilson) a young architect in New York. Cynical and jaded from living life in the big city while not looking like a supermodel, she finds herself plunged into a world of romantic comedy when she hits her head during an attempted mugging. Can this woman who learned at an early age she couldn’t believe in romance, learn to not only love herself, but find it with someone else? Todd Strauss-Schulson directs the film from a script by Dana Fox, Erin Cardillo and Katie Silberman.
From the opening scene, Isn’t It Romantic makes its intentions clear. This is a take-down of “rom-coms”, albeit a gentle one. We know the type of movie this is referring too… Pretty Woman, She’s All That and The Proposal are all examples which spring to mind. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl in a third act break-up and boy finally gets girl… all set to a quirky pop music score. Tonally, this tactic does work. Strauss-Schulson blends well with his creative team to craft a rich and luscious, yet overly sanitized world which completely fits with the vision they’re trying to craft. In a cute move that completely works, it’s a very PG-13 world.
It’s thrilling to see Isn’t It Romantic come from a team of female writers. Rebel Wilson herself even serves as an executive producer. While rom-coms are often geared towards women, they are often helmed and created by men. Pretty Woman to The Proposal and even Love Actually are all written by men. In fact, probably the biggest opportunity for the film comes from the direction. While Strauss-Schulson does a great job with what he does, this would be a fascinating chance to explore a different directorial perspective. This whole film is about the experiences of a “normal” woman in the face of a romantic comedy world. How would Isn’t It Romantic be a different film in the hands of a female or a POC filmmaker?
Isn’t It Romantic struggles a bit with its narrative construction and ends up telegraphing its ending within the first act of the film. The construction leads to a challenge; while the movie wants to be a smart and savvy parody, at times it feels incredibly mainstream. Despite the presence of two primary male leads, it’s not a struggle to tell who Natalie must end up with by the time the final credits roll. Now, is this a structural problem? Or could this be simply be an example of how the film parodies the relatively uncomplicated “rom com”? The script structure is effective enough that it’s easy to give the film the benefit of the doubt.
The film’s greatest strength comes from its performances. Rebel Wilson shows some new layers, brining a refreshing depth to the character of Natalie. This trend (along with I Feel Pretty) of the unfortunate comedy of an unconventional looking actress finding love is already a bit tired, and feels decidedly Hollywood. However, this movie largely manages to sidestep these struggles, mostly thanks to Wilson’s performance. She’s a pro at the physical comedy, but finds layers to Natalie, showing the real and sometimes painful effects of these movies (Hollywood) on a woman who isn’t blessed with film star good looks. She’s cynical and jaded… just like the rest of us! Wilson is also perfectly sympathetic when she needs to be, a vitally important aspect when dealing with this fish out of water plot.
Meanwhile, the men around Wilson absolutely shine. Liam Hemsworth… or “Diet Hemsworth”… kills it as Blake, Natalie’s annoying (turned wealthy Australian!) love interest. He hits a home run with comedic material he very rarely has the opportunity to take on. Not to mention his willingness tackle a part which is specifically constructed for the female gaze… surprising considering the male film maker. The camera sexualizes and openly gazes at his chiseled physique, and the difference isn’t lost.
Meanwhile, Adam Devine demonstrates why he should get ALL the romantic comedies. While the actor’s bread-and-butter is adult comedy, he’s been showing some dramatic chops as he begins to stretch his acting wings. As Natalie’s likable friend Josh, Devine awes as a human and relatable love interest. Devine possesses an ability to look at a woman like she’s the only person who matters and it’s easy to find oneself pulled in. While it’s easy to write this off simply as chemistry with his co-star, he’s absolutely killed it as the “supportive significant other” in a variety of these roles. His sweetness shines through in his character, combine this with his keen sense of humor, the resulting likability is a perfect fit in this female led romantic comedy.
Isn’t It Romantic is a fun and enjoyable romantic comedy, especially perfect for a girl’s night out. The strong work of its performers, combined with some fascinating world building makes the movie a must-see for fans of the sub-genre.
Isn’t It Romantic is in theaters around the country now.