Isn’t It Romantic is a toothless spoof, but a fun romance


Rebel Wilson’s latest attempt to spoof the rom-com ends up being a fond remembrance of a genre that’s never gotten proper respect.

Last year saw a slew of articles crop up discussing the renaissance of romantic comedies heralded by Netflix’s release of films like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Set It Up. As people were discovering these films, it left many to ask, “Where did the rom-com go?”

What was once a reliable Hollywood moneymaker all but disappeared within the last 10 years with several reasons for why that is — all of which are brought up by Rebel Wilson’s Natalie in this rom-com spoof.

Isn’t It Romantic? aims to be a send-up of the romantic comedy genre, which it does admirably, though it is hard not to get a steaming whiff of white feminism to the whole endeavor that’s on par with the Amy Schumer feature I Feel Pretty. Unlike that film, Isn’t It Romantic? is genuinely funny and engaging, and even though its references feel like they missed the party in a world where Crazy Rich Asians exists, it genuinely seems to be in love with love.

REBEL WILSON as Natalie in New Line Cinema’s comedy “ISN’T IT ROMANTIC,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Natalie (Wilson) is a young woman who understands romantic comedies aren’t made for girls like her. She isn’t a size zero, commands no respect at her job, and is generally unhappy with her life though she never shows it. When she’s mugged in the subway and hits her head, she’s transported to a rom-com version of New York where she’s torn between her best friend Josh (Adam Devine) and the wealthy Blake (Liam Hemsworth).

In 2006, we got the truly atrocious rom-com spoof, Date Movie, wherein a group of male screenwriters attempted to lampoon a genre they knew nothing about and, apparently, outright hated. What keeps Isn’t It Romantic? from falling into that same trap is a genuine appreciation for the movie that inspired the film.

REBEL WILSON as Natalie in New Line Cinema’s comedy “ISN’T IT ROMANTIC,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

At barely 90-minutes the film is chockablock with references to rom-com classics like Pretty Woman and When Harry Met Sally, to newer features like 13 Going on 30 and Notting Hill that benefit rewatching to catch everything. The attention to detail is beautifully rendered here, with everything from wardrobe to production design showing a reverence for the rom-com aesthetic. The fact that the streets are littered with cupcake shops and bookstores says someone did their homework.

Director Todd Strauss-Schulson understands the homage film, having directed the horror send-up The Final Girls, itself taking a familiar genre known for exploiting women and subverting it. Screenwriters Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie SIlberman take the character of Natalie, a cynic who thinks rom-coms are “toxic” and give her criticisms legitimacy.

Rom-coms aren’t diverse; they’re dated and espouse a world where if you’re anything other than a white able-bodied female who’s size 0 then you don’t exist. But as Natalie’s best friend Whitney (wonderfully played by Betty Gilpin) explains, they’re created to provide light in a bleak world. They remind us of why we wake up every morning, in the hopes of finding someone who gets us.

REBEL WILSON as Natalie in New Line Cinema’s comedy “ISN’T IT ROMANTIC,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

It’s not to say the movie’s lampooning is particularly biting. Much like I Feel Pretty, this is a movie where Wilson’s Natalie benefits from being a white woman. Her only flaw is, apparently, that she’s not skinny. She’s out of work for a full week in the rom-com world, yet no one ever brings up money, the wage gap, or anything about economic disparity. There are two African-American women in this movie, one of whom overtly comes off like she’s embodying the “sassy black woman” trope, yet it’s never commented on.

Even when Natalie does comment on the obvious, like her gay best friend Donny (Brandon Scott Jones, stealing every scene), there’s little to the joke other than “it’s dated.” None of the characters comment on the valid critiques of romantic comedies. Moments of vulnerability, like Donny’s attempt to bond with Natalie at the end, aren’t to call on how rom-coms have changed, but further the prototypical rom-com storyline already in progress.

But these are flaws you should already know going in. Yes, it’s a spoof, but it’s still in the rom-com genre. It isn’t meant to be a modern romantic comedy but one you’d find in 2008. So characters performing karaoke and engaging in dance-offs are meant to play on nostalgia, not provide social commentary. So, essentially, expect these flaws going in as you would any other rom-com.

(L-R) LIAM HEMSWORTH as Blake and REBEL WILSON as Natalie in New Line Cinema’s comedy “ISN’T IT ROMANTIC,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Michael Parmelee

Thankfully, the cast sells this movie to high heaven and they’re so funny you can easily see this being a movie you’d add to your girls’ night alongside films like 10 Things I Hate About You. Rebel Wilson is relatable as Natalie. She grew up knowing movies weren’t designed for her and thus can’t find the joy in a genre that seems limiting. When she’s in the rom-com world the humor is derived from her believing the world’s gone mad. Her interactions with Hemsworth’s Blake are the best, though there should be a spin-off movie with just her and Jones’ Donny.

Jones’ Donny and Hemsworth’s Blake are the exaggerated forms of the gay best friend and the beautiful jerk boyfriend, respectively, and each sells their character with all the enthusiasm they possess. Donny provides advice, both personal and fashion, and has the magical ability to be everywhere at once. The way Jones delivers all his lines induces laughs and he ends up running away with the entire production.

Hemsworth, to his credit, takes a cue from his older brother, Chris, playing Blake as a beautiful idiot who reuses a word like “beguiling” in every sentence but fails to know what it means. He was born to be in a romantic comedy and plays it to the hilt.

Andy Devine plays the “right” guy, Natalie’s best friend Josh. He and Wilson, having starred in two other films before this, have chemistry, but he’s little more than the dependable guy.

(L-R) ADAM DEVINE as Josh, REBEL WILSON as Natalie and PRIYANKA CHOPRA as Isabella in New Line Cinema’s comedy “ISN’T IT ROMANTIC,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Priyanka Chopra and Gilpin are solid, but ultimately wasted once they’re introduced in the rom-com world. Natalie lays out that women in these movies are generally presented as enemies — a valid critique — yet outside of giving Gilpin redder hair and higher shoes, there’s no Working Girl-esque animosity written between the two. The same goes for Chopra, who acts like she’s emulating Cameron Diaz in My Best Friend’s Wedding, but the movie only introduces her hostility at Natalie in the final third.

Isn’t It Romantic? is a safe send-up of the rom-com that’s nostalgic but never analytical about the subject matter. However, like the best rom-coms, audiences who love the genre won’t care.

The script is funny and the cast is wonderful together. Couple that with a short runtime and it’s hard to get too mad at what amounts to a sweet, funny throwback that revels in being cute. You can’t be too mad at a movie that has a dance sequence and a Hemsworth rocking a saxophone, can you?