Every genre has it’s expected clichés. The romantic comedy genre is no exception. The new movie, Isn’t It Romantic, both revels in the clichés and mocks them in gleeful fashion.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Written By: Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox and Kate Silberman
The film starts in the early 90’s. Young Natalie (Alex Kis) is watching Pretty Woman with adoring eyes. Her mother (Jennifer Saunders), is quick to burst her daughter’s bubble about romance and romantic comedies, claiming that Natalie will not get her happy ending like Julia Roberts. The film then cuts to 25 years later, and adult Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is still plus sized and as cynical as her mother years ago.She lives in New York City and works in an architecture office where her colleagues see her more as a gopher than an architect.
But while attempting to run away from a mugger, she hits her head and is knocked unconscious. When she wakes up, the world around her has changed. Everything around her comes straight out of a romantic comedy. This includes the super-hot billionaire Blake (Liam Hemsworth, complete with the perfect six-pack abs), who thinks Natalie is the best thing since sliced bread and her gay neighbor Donny (Brandon Scott Jones), who is pulled from every gay stereotype that has ever existed. The only thing that seems the same is the relationship with Josh (Adam Devine), but that too is different from reality, especially when he meets Isabella (Priyanka Chopra), a model who seems more like a fantasy than reality.
Then it hits her: she’s stuck in a PG-13 romantic comedy.
Isn’t It Romantic Challenges the Audience and Filmmakers To Step Out Of The Box
There comes a point in the lifetime of a genre when filmmakers rely on cliché characters and narratives instead of getting clever. From the out of nowhere dance number in Central Park (Enchanted, 2007), to the perfectly timed karaoke/sing-along and the sudden revelation that the heroine is in love with her best friend (My Best Friend’s Wedding, 1997) and the Prince Charming type who falls in love with the unlikely heroine (Pretty Woman, 1990), there is no romantic comedy cliché that is left unturned.
With this film, audiences and filmmakers are challenged to try something new when it comes to romantic comedies. Whether it is a heroine who does not look like she stepped out of a fashion magazine or depicting New York City as it is (as opposed to how it appears on screen), the film pushes boundaries for the genre that is rarely seen in movie theaters.
Rebel Wilson is Not Your Average Rom-Com Star
The average American woman wears a size fourteen or above, and the average rom-com leading lady is at best a size four or a size six. The fact that Rebel Wilson looks more like the average American woman than the average rom-com leading lady makes this film stand out. In most romantic comedies, Natalie would be the funny best friend or the supportive sister instead of the leading lady. In the casting of Rebel Wilson, this film is making a giant step forward in reflecting the audience who watches these types of movies.
Wilson and Devine Have Divine Chemistry
Among the list of must have qualities that successful films have is chemistry between the lead actors. Rebel Wilson and Adam Devine have chemistry like nobody’s business. Devine has referred to Wilson as his “work wife”, having worked with her in the first two Pitch Perfect films and Workaholics (2011-2017). Their friendship off screen comes across on screen as their characters navigate their personal and professional relationships.
New York in Reality vs. New York as Portrayed in Romantic Comedies
Ask any New Yorker (myself included) and we can tell you that the city that is portrayed in film (especially in romantic comedies) and the city itself is completely different. The city I know and love is a bit grimy, a bit dirty and not as clean-cut and shiny as the genre makes it out to be. The average Jane or John Doe is unlikely to catch the eye of a supermodel or a billionaire. I personally blame Sex and the City for this image, but that is another subject for another time.
I nearly laughed out loud when I saw Natalie’s apartment in the dream world. It is completely unrealistic, but it makes sense for the genre. In a dream world where money is no object, an apartment like that is all the rage. In the real world, one has to earn a healthy six-figure income to be able to afford an apartment that looks like it came out of a magazine.
Are the Other Critics Wrong?
Other critics have criticized the film by having its cake and eating it too. I disagree with that statement. I disagree with it because while the comedy comes from the satire, the message of the film is about self-acceptance, self-love and opening yourself up to the experience of falling in love. Natalie’s story is more than the satire. It’s the story of a woman who goes on this journey of learning to love herself and let herself fall in love. But it’s not done in an over-the-top, saccharine way. It’s funny and reminded me that in order to fall in love with someone else, you have to fall in love with yourself first.
Satire works best when the comedy lovingly skewers it’s subject while pointing out why we love it. Isn’t It Romantic made me laugh and made me smile at the same time. The film mercilessly mocked what audiences expect in romantic comedies while reminding us of the power of love. What else do you need?
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