Somehow, it seems fitting that in a time when meta is the new normal, a film that attempts to deconstruct and examine the elements of the romantic-comedy genre is this year’s primary romantic-comedy release for the week of Valentine’s Day. Isn’t It Romantic is the story of Natalie (Rebel Wilson), an architect who is somewhat fed up with the mainstream Hollywood version of what love and courtship are. Her best female friend in the office, Whitney (Betty Gilpin), is always trying to get her to see the fun in the fantasy, while her best male friend, Josh (Adam Devine), is naturally the shy guy who has been pining for her across the office for years.
As movies like this tend do a lot these day, Natalie gets knocked on the head and when she wakes, New York City has become an idealized version of itself, complete with quaint cupcake stores and cafes everywhere. She finds herself in the middle of a cliche-ridden romantic-comedy of the highest order, complete with a hunky potential love interest in her firm’s client, Bake (Liam Hemsworth). In this version of her life, she’s not allowed to have a female friend in the office, so Whitney becomes her fiercest rival, while Josh is dating a supermodel (Priyanka Chopra) he saved from choking at a restaurant—classic meetcute. Natalie is even assigned a gay friend/neighbor, Donny (Brandon Scott Jones), who frequently bursts into her now-swanky apartment to dish out love advice without the slightest of prompting.
Some of director Todd Strauss-Schulson’s (The Final Girls, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas) observations about romantic-comedies are quite sharp and funny, but let’s be honest: the genre is hardly a moving target. Screenwriters Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox and Katie Silberman are mining familiar territory (makeover montages, trying on clothes, catchy pop songs covering every square inch of the soundtrack), and everyone in the film is playing it just broad enough, winking enough that the movie doesn’t exactly qualify as razor-sharp satire. Still, Wilson ditches a bit of the more grating behavior that has made her a fan favorite in films like Bridesmaids, How To Be Single and the Pitch Perfect movies, and replaced it with an edgy charm that makes her reactions to this alternate version of her life quite amusing and understandably skeptical.
It probably won’t come as any surprise that the deeper we go into the story, the more it turns into Natalie’s version of the worst kind of romantic-comedy, and I’m fairly certain that’s by design. Although that doesn’t make a fully choreographed closing musical number go down any easier. Rather than attempt to carve out her own adult relationship, she succumbs to the love energy of the universe. Some may smile and embrace this path. Others will wonder at what point the writers took all the teeth out of their largely bite-free script and just let conventional rom-com practices take over.
Just because you have a clearer eye toward the tropes and pitfalls of a particular film genre doesn’t mean you don’t fall victim to them despite your best efforts to seem aware. Combining that general spirit with a lackluster cast, you get Isn’t It Romantic in all its muddled glory. I’m always rooting for Wilson to give us the best version of her comedic self, and there are moments here where she made me genuinely laugh. But they aren’t enough to save this limp exercise in self-referential humor.
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