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October 26, 2020

Isn’t it Romantic fails to fully subvert expectations

By COLE DOUGLASS | February 21, 2019

If Isn’t It Romantic was a character in a romantic comedy, it would be the first-act love interest: attractive, charming, generally a nice enough guy, but the protagonist isn’t going to burst into the church at the last second to stop their wedding. The parody of romantic comedies/actual romantic comedy has some good jokes and a lot of heart, but its attempts to subvert the expectations of the genre, though admirable, often feel underdeveloped — especially in the film’s final moments. Still, for all of its flaws, Isn’t it Romantic finds a lot of humor and heart in the clichés and is ultimately a fairly enjoyable, if shallow, satire.

Isn’t It Romantic stars Rebel Wilson as Natalie, a cynical and self-loathing architect who, after suffering a head injury, finds herself in an alternate reality torn straight from the script of a PG-13 romantic comedy. However, although she now has the perfect job, her dream apartment and the attention of a hunky billionaire (Liam Hemsworth), she just wants to get back to the dingy reality that she knows and loves. In order to do so she’ll have to find her one true love and play along with the rules of the genre that she so despises. 

Unsurprisingly the film’s main strength is its comedy, and much of its humor comes from the presence of a normal person in the rose-tinted world of a romantic comedy. Natalie constantly criticizes the world around her for being too unrealistic, and though the commentary gets a little repetitive by the end of the movie, it does yield some fantastic results earlier on. Some of the jokes aren’t particularly novel — like her inability to swear in the PG-13 movie world — but there are a lot of inventive and hilarious punch lines throughout the film.

Even the more standard jokes are elevated thanks to the performances of the film’s fairly excellent cast. Though Wilson serves as the film’s straight man for much of the plot, she brings the perfect amount of levity to the role, while also selling the film’s more emotional and dramatic scenes. Likewise, Hemsworth is hilarious as the billionaire who immediately falls head over heels for Natalie. He is the star of basically every one of his scenes, and it is clear that he had a fantastic time with the role. Meanwhile Priyanka Chopra and Betty Gilpin are criminally underused as (respectively) Natalie’s romantic rival and friend/evil coworker. 

Really the only dud character in the bunch is Adam DeVine’s Josh, Natalie’s best friend and the film’s ultimate love interest. The character is bland and uninteresting, and though DeVine tries his best with the role, there isn’t really anything in the part for him to salvage. Though Josh has a few good moments, mostly thanks to the actor’s charisma, he can’t compete with the dramatic personalities that surround him and fades into the background as a result.

Romantic also has really strong visuals that do a fantastic job of establishing an aesthetic for each of the two worlds and contrasting the two against one another. Shots in the real world are dirty and messy, while also full of character, which makes Natalie’s desire to return much more understandable. Meanwhile every single set in the rom-com world is undeniably beautiful yet sterile and distant at the same time. Meanwhile the dramatic angles and grand, sweeping pans across ornate churches and lovers kissing in the rain lean into the cheesy, over-the-top sentiment of romantic comedies without pushing the joke too far. Basically, every single shot is beautiful, and the movie manages to grab attention based solely on its imagery.

The film’s narrative, on the other hand, is definitely the most poorly constructed aspect of the film, especially in the climax and resolution. Ultimately Romantic argues that self-love is more important than romantic love, which is a pretty decent moral that fits into the film’s parody very well. However the theme doesn’t really develop over the course of the movie, and its introduction is unexpected and underwhelming. There are a few hints that Natalie’s self-loathing is her fatal flaw (as opposed to her dislike of romantic comedies), but they aren’t cohesive, and her realizations and character development feel unearned as a result.

Of course, for all of its jokes, Romantic is still very much a romantic comedy in its own right, and perhaps expecting it to have well-defined thematic structure is unjustified. Still, it feels a little cheap for the movie to claim that self-fulfillment is more important than love, only to have Natalie end up with a guy at the end anyway. It might only be a little detail, but it is a definite misstep that resulted in an unsatisfying ending to an otherwise decent film.

In the end, if you aren’t a fan of romantic comedies, then you probably aren’t going to like Isn’t It Romantic. The film follows the conventions of the genre pretty closely, even if it makes fun of itself for doing so every step of the way. Still, for all of its flaws, the movie is pretty enjoyable, and the filmmakers clearly have a lot of appreciation for the romantic comedies that they reference and tease. It might not change your mind about the quality of rom-coms, but Isn’t It Romantic is still definitely worth the ticket price.

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