Isn't It Romantic Review

“This is like The Matrix for lonely women,” retorts Natalie, the clever lead of the affable new romantic-comedy spoof Isn’t It Romantic. The “this” in question is the inexplicable alternate universe in which Natalie finds herself, a version of New York City that’s straight out of the romantic-comedy playbook. Isn’t It Romantic isn’t the first film-length parody of rom-coms, nor is it the sharpest or wittiest, but the film’s ebullience and the sheer charm offensive courtesy of lead actress Rebel Wilson makes it a perfectly pleasant, and appropriate, Valentine’s Day affair.

When we first meet Natalie, she’s a talented architect at a New York firm, but almost everyone at the firm treats her like a glorified assistant, simply because she allows them to. Her assistant (Betty Gilpin) is friendly, but obsessed with romantic comedies for their escapism; her fellow co-worker Josh (Adam DeVine) is clearly crushing hard on Natalie, but she’s too unwilling to acknowledge the obvious. One day after work, Natalie’s mugged on the subway, and in the fracas, she bonks her head and wakes up in an amalgam of every 1980s and 1990s romantic comedy, from Pretty Woman to When Harry Met Sally…

In its strongest moments, Isn’t It Romantic is like the Duck Amuck of romantic comedies, featuring a lead character who is not only very cognizant of her surroundings, but is trying her damnedest to manipulate them. One of the film’s best gags (sadly ruined by the marketing campaign) features Natalie — who, in the shiny, colorful, well-appointed fantasy world she awakes in, is well-respected and begins a relationship with a hunky Australian businessman (Liam Hemsworth) — forcibly trying to have sex with her new paramour, even though the movie keeps cutting away as soon as anything remotely R-rated begins to happen. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson goes out of his way to lean into the slick stylization of romantic comedies, creating a candy-colored NYC that only exists in soundstages. The film doesn’t always toe the line of mocking romantic-comedy tropes versus just gleefully collapsing into them, but innate charm pushes through even the more predictable plot elements.

It also helps to have Rebel Wilson as the film’s lead. Fans of the Pitch Perfect franchise will no doubt be pleased that Wilson has not one, but two musical sequences here; that said, what makes her such a naturally charming performer is less her musical talent than her tendency to cut through the BS of a scene, muttering non sequitur responses almost under her breath. Wilson’s presence in the film also is a tacit acknowledgement how rare it is for a romantic comedy to focus on someone who’s not rail-thin — in the fantasy world, both Natalie and Josh find themselves in couplings with physically attractive specimens, even though they’re obviously meant for each other. Isn’t It Romantic manages to sneak in a journey of self-empowerment for Natalie amidst her struggles to break out of a romantic-comedy world, made all the more charming because it’s Wilson progressing through that journey.

And, as in the Pitch Perfect films, her chemistry with Adam DeVine remains reliably goofy (though they’re both a bit more reined-in here, and a lot less outlandish). DeVine mostly gets to represent a schlubbier version of the stolid leading-man type – imagine Dermot Mulroney in My Best Friend’s Wedding – thus allowing Hemsworth to steal his scenes as the outrageously good-looking billionaire who can’t stop calling Natalie “beguiling”. Like his brother Chris, Liam seems surprisingly at home playing against type in comic situations. The other standout is Brandon Scott Jones as Donny — in the real world, he’s Natalie’s grouchy neighbor, but in the fantasy, he’s the gay sidekick who’s “setting gay rights back about 100 years”, popping up at random times to toss off a few one-liners and buck up our heroine’s spirits. The character is skin deep (deliberately so), but Jones imbues him with life amidst the intentional stereotyping.

Isn’t It Romantic is, in its own way, as skin-deep as the films it’s playfully mocking. The script, by Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox and Kate Silberman, is written with love in its heart for the romantic comedies of the world even as it can spot all the flaws and tropes. The true victor for best romantic-comedy spoof is, of course, They Came Together, which is just a straight-faced parody of romantic comedies, helped enormously by Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd’s brilliant leading performances. Isn’t It Romantic essentially wants to both mock these movies and be one of them, having its cake and eating it too. As much as we’re meant to laugh with Natalie at the tropes she’s experiencing, we’re also meant to want her to find love the way that people root for the leads of iconic romantic comedies. Though it doesn’t all quite work in the end, the buoyancy and lightness of Isn’t It Romantic are a welcome surprise this time of year.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10

Cool Posts From Around the Web:

About the Author

Josh Spiegel is a Phoenix-based critic & writer. He's one of the hosts of Mousterpiece Cinema, a podcast about Disney films. He's also written a book of criticism on Pixar, titled Yesterday is Forever: Nostalgia and Pixar Animation Studios.