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February 18, 2019

Isn’t It Romantic

by Franz Patrick

Isn’t It Romantic (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

The more popular the genre, the more difficult it is to skewer or subvert it effectively. The reason is because there are so many elements to acknowledge and then material must turn them inside out and upside down in a way that is fresh or, at the very least, entertaining. Although the highly self-aware “Isn’t It Romantic,” written by Todd Garner, Grant Scharbo, and Gina Matthews, is enjoyable on a surface level, the longer one thinks about the different moving parts and how they work together, it is all the more apparent that the façade is a but a mere reiteration of what it is poking fun of. In other words, it is not as daring or smart as it purports to be.

Rebel Wilson plays Natalie, an architect in New York City who is not respected at her place of employment even though she is good at her job. A former admirer of romantic comedies when she was a little girl, the years gone by and life experiences have inured her to romantic gestures and happenstances. Some may consider her to be a realist while others might regard her as jaded. When a mugging at the subway station goes terribly wrong and leaves her unconscious, Natalie wakes up not just in the emergency room but an alternate universe where life is a romantic comedy.

I found the real NYC to be more interesting than the fantasy even though the latter is filled with bright colors, massive advertisements with occasionally clever in-jokes, and happy smiling faces that could rival even the best toothpaste commercials. Natalie’s actual life, although drab and a bit pathetic, is not only relatable but the screenplay must compensate on the level of entertainment value by providing sharper, more urgent writing. When the story shifts to the fantasy world about fifteen minutes in, it becomes more of a visual experience rather than an interior one. As the story moves toward its finale, there are lessons to be imparted about self-love—ironic because these come across as mere empty gestures. I wished the screenwriters had found a way to make both worlds to be equally fascinating in different ways.

At least the material is aware of the major landmarks of romantic comedies: the heroine having to choose between two men (Adam DeVine, Liam Hemsworth—the former playing the ordinary-looking chap but one who is clearly right for Natalie and the latter portraying a wealthy billionaire with perfectly tailored suits and rock-hard abs but is obviously wrong for her), the offensively flamboyant gay best friend who must exist simply to tend to the protagonist’s every need (Brandon Scott Jones), the office rival whose looks could kill (Betty Gilpin). However, look beyond these elements and realize that there is nothing much to them. Is this the point or is it the film’s shortcoming?

I say it is the second option. Consider for a minute that the movie’s goal is to satirize the romantic comedy sub-genre. In order for it be successful, not only must it point to things that are ridiculous or have gone stale, or both, the material must find a way to fix them, for instance. Time and again the film proves to be interested only in the former. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if the lovers, the gay BFF, and the rival were given dimensions especially within the scope of the fantasy world? Of course, the writing would have to be more ambitious and the filmmakers must not be afraid for the material to break out of the ninety-minute running time. Look at how nicely everything is tied together in the end so quickly; it provides no genuine catharsis because the journey given to us is not only cursory but it commits only half-heartedly.

Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson, there are some laughs to be had in “Isn’t It Romantic” despite its staunchness to deliver mediocrity. Without a doubt, its ace is Wilson. She has the ability to turn cringe-worthy moments into a genuine good time. I have always admired that she dares the viewers to look at her physicality, specifically her weight, and force us to recognize her talents as a risk-taking performer. If only the writing were as audacious as the lead.


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