Rebel Wilson Is an Anti-Rom-Com Heroine in ‘Isn’t It Romantic’
The often tired tropes found in rom-coms are explored in “Isn’t It Romantic,” a comedy that satirizes the genre without completely skewering it. Rebel Wilson stars as Natalie, a thirtysomething Aussie who, like many women, grew up swooning over “Pretty Woman” and other films that set up unrealistic expectations. Fortunately, or unfortunately, she has a crass, probably alcoholic mother (Jennifer Saunders) who, in the flashback opening scene, douses her young daughter with a harsh truth, that frothy romance is only reserved for the likes of Julia Roberts.
In present day, Natalie is a junior-level architect living in the city that has birthed so many cinematic love stories, New York. She suffers from self-esteem issues, which makes it easy for her co-workers to disrespect her, with the exception of project manager Josh (Adam DeVine) and her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin), although the latter spends most of the work day watching movies. After Whitney declares her love for romantic comedies, Natalie responds by ripping apart the tropes of the genre one by one, including slow-motion runs, women waking up in full make-up, and clumsiness on the part of a female protagonist being considered adorable (“In real life, people would think she had muscular dystrophy!”). Predictably, Natalie experiences all this and more after she wakes up inside an alternate universe in which flowers line the streets of NYC, f-words are bleeped out, and handsome, wealthy men who find her “beguiling” are just around the corner in their limos.
“Isn’t It Romantic” shares many similarities with “I Feel Pretty,” the raunchier Amy Schumer rom-com released last year. However, this film thankfully manages to avoid making jokes at the expense of its protagonist’s weight, although Natalie is clearly often made to feel like a “plain Jane.” Like Schumer in the aforementioned film, Natalie sustains a life-changing head injury (she runs into a pole after an attempted subway mugging). When she wakes up in the E.R., she finds the world around her suddenly transformed into an idealized version of New York, one filled with pastel colors, cupcake shops, and walk-in closets full of designer shoes. Needless to day, the production and wardrobe departments deserve their due for making this world pop.
By the second act, “Isn’t It Romantic” finds itself falling prey to the romantic tropes that it initially set out to turn over. It’s not long before Natalie finds herself caught between rival suitors, basic nice guy Josh and hunky billionaire Blake (Liam Hemsworth). From the opening scenes, it’s obvious that Josh is hopelessly in love with Natalie, although the arrival on the scene of glamorous “yoga ambassador” Isabella (Priyanka Chopra) leads him astray. The scenes here that are funniest and most effective are the ones already included in the trailer, those satirizing the PG-13 world of rom-com, such as the fade in/fade out sexless sex scenes.
Just when the viewer thinks that they are being led to a cliché of an ending, director Todd Strauss-Schulson and the writing team manage to rein it in, and Natalie experiences an epiphany about self-acceptance. Helping her out with this is the character who is initially meant to be the most one-note rom-com archetype, gay bestie Donny (a fabulous Brandon Scott Jones), who proves to be the deepest of them all.
“Isn’t It Romantic” opens Feb. 13 nationwide.