Isn’t It Romantic | Todd Strauss-Schulson | February 13, 2019
Romcoms aren’t for everyone. Fans of the genre can defend that they provide an optimistic outlook of love that is inspiring. Detractors would say that there both tiresome and cliche. And quite frankly, both sides have their points. When a romcom hits right, it goes down extra smooth, often leaving you feeling hopeful. When they’re bad, they’re really bad and risk tarnishing the brand as a whole. But on both ends of the spectrum, you have those who will say that romcoms create an unobtainable expectation of romance, one that will set you up for disappointment.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, here comes Isn’t It Romantic. Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson (A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, The Final Girls), the film serves as not only a leading vehicle for Rebel Wilson that she seemed destined for since her arrival with Pitch Perfect, but mainly a not so subtle riff at everything to do with the genre of romcoms.
Natalie (Rebel Wilson) grew up watching romantic comedies but soon becomes jaded to the fact that life is a far cry from the expectations that Julia Roberts’ movies portrayed. She works as an architect in New York City where she is hardly noticed at work except by her best friend and assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) and Josh (Adam Devine), who clearly has a thing for Natalie, who remains totally oblivious. She’s too busy being smitten by the firm’s hunky new client Blake (Liam Hemsworth).
While riding the subway, Natalie is blindsided and robbed by a man pretending to show an interest in here. The encounter causes her to hit her head so hard that she wakes up and suddenly finds herself in a bizarre world where she’s living through a romcom of her own life – a PG-13 one at that.
It is a bit ironic that the film comes hot off the heels of 2018, a pretty damn good year for the genre with Crazy Rich Asians, Love, Simon and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Strauss-Schulson both embraces and pokes fun at the genre, and while it does make some pretty clever jokes and observations about the expectations of romantic comedies, it also falls into many of the safe and predictable trappings that come with the genre.
Mercifully, the film only drags this out to the maximum length, running a swift 88 minutes. Even still, this arc is played out to diminishing returns, and it ultimately ends up being every bit as safe and predictable as the films that it’s making fun of. Strauss-Schulson, along with the writing trio of Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman, have fun keeping things meta, pointing out the cliche aspects of the genre such as the bright vibrant color schemes and production design (compared to the dull murky one of her real life), breaking out into musicals, the overly flamboyant gay best friend who appears out of the blue whenever needed (played to humorous effect by the scene-stealing Brandon Scott Jones), all the way down to the sweeping camera movements and eye-roll inducing lines.
It was only a matter of time until Wilson was the anchoring comedic powerhouse in a film, but aside from a few standout moments, the film doesn’t utilize her to her full capacity. The same can be said about Liam Hemsworth who sadly feels like he’s playing in the shadow of his brother. As likable as Adam Devine and his character are, the role just felt like a more sedate carryover from their relationship in the Pitch Perfect series. But the film does prop up some standout supporting performances, mainly Brandon Scott Jones as the gay best friend, Gilpin as the rom-com obsessed best friend/assistant, and Baywatch & Quantico‘s Priyanka Chopra as Isabella, the too-perfect woman that threatens to steal her man in the rom-com world.
There’s enough hilarity to go around to provide a fair share of clever chuckles, but it doesn’t execute the concept in a way that felt more substantial to subvert expectations and really elevate it above and beyond the movies that it’s riffing on. Wilson will have her true big leading moment but Isn’t It Romantic isn’t it.