Isn’t It Romantic is quick to inform us that “Life is not a fairy tale.” When we first meet our leading lady Natalie, she is a young girl dreamily watching Richard Gere romance Julia Roberts and fantasizing about her own Prince Charming. Her cynical mother (a brief cameo by the always fabulous Jennifer Saunders) soon dashes her hopes. She bluntly informs her daughter that romantic comedies are a lie and girls like her don’t get the happy ending.
Why? They don’t look like Julia Roberts, that’s why. That’s it. That’s all it takes for Natalie to absorb her mother’s cynical view on love, and when we meet her again as a 30-something architect (played by Rebel Wilson), it’s clear her thoughts on love, and romantic comedies, have not changed.
Rather than designing fancy New York hotels, Natalie creates parking garages. She is close friends with her movie-obsessed assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) and her encouraging colleague Josh (Adam Devine) while remaining oblivious to his subtle advances.
After catching Whitney watching The Wedding Singer at work, Natalie goes on a long diatribe listing all of the reasons why romantic comedies are terrible, after which Whitney suggests Natalie be more open to people. Unfortunately, Natalie’s first attempt at taking her friend’s advice leads to her being mugged at the subway station, where she hits her head and falls unconscious. When she wakes up, she’s in the hospital with a handsome doctor who can’t get over how beautiful she is. Yes, Natalie has woken up to find herself in the middle of a romantic comedy, and she hates every minute of it. Her apartment is larger and exquisitely decorated. Her dog is clean and obeys her commands. Her real-world drug-dealing neighbor Donny (Brandon Scott Jones) is now an unemployed, flamboyantly gay man who exists solely to help Natalie navigate her perfect life. Oh, and she’s caught the eye of her firm’s wealthy, hunky client Blake (Liam Hemsworth), who, before her head trauma, assumed she was the coffee girl rather than an architect.
While New York now smells like lavender and has a soft, gorgeous filter, Natalie is not impressed. She seeks help from Josh, who seems keen to believe her tale, but they’re derailed by the sudden choking of yoga ambassador and swimsuit model Isabella (Priyanka Chopra). Josh saves her life, and it’s love at first sight, leaving Natalie alone to figure out how to get things back to normal. She realizes she needs to embrace the tropes now leading her journey and ultimately make a man fall in love with her. Cue the first date montage set to Annie Lennox.
You don’t have to be a fan of the genre to pick up on the cliches. They’re so painfully accurate while still laughing out loud funny. Most notably, the movie skewers the more problematic rom-com tropes, including the stereotypical gay sidekick who only seems to tone things down when he has some honest heart-to-heart advice to give. There is also a distinct lack of diversity save for Chopra’s character and a minor character or two, but I could not tell you if that was another point the movie was trying to make.
Director Todd Strauss-Schulson crams as many rom-com tropes and sentimental homages into the film as he can, but he also effectively deals with a plus-size protagonist while not making it a Thing itself. Natalie’s mother is frank about Natalie’s lack of appeal compared to the beautiful actresses on screen, which no doubt led to Natalie’s lack of self-confidence as an adult. As she explains to Josh, she feels invisible to attractive men. Her other co-workers see her as someone to push their tedious work off onto because she’s not assertive enough to tell them no. And the first time she decides to try and connect with a man, he mugs her.
It’s meant as humor, but it’s also heartbreaking that in her rom-com world, she marvels to Josh that men are finally looking her in the eyes. Natalie is very aware of her lot in life, but thankfully, she’s not treated like a joke. It’s refreshing, but for a brief mention of her build when she stops a food cart, there are no digs or jokes about her weight. She may be a bit of a pushover, but she’s also a gifted architect, kind and witty, and full of biting one-liners. A human being worthy of love just as all of the Julia Roberts of the world is. You see the kind of woman Whitney and Josh can see, even if Natalie cannot do the same.
Yes, Isn’t It Romantic is satire, but it also slips into the tropes it has so much fun picking apart. Her budding feelings for Josh only aid Natalie’s journey of self-discovery and self-love, and yes, the heartfelt advice from Donny. Ultimately, can she have everything she believed was far from reach? Given this is a romantic comedy, what do you think?
I truly loved this movie. Rebel Wilson is a natural performer, and it was beautiful to see a film that knew what to do with her comedic skill sets. She also shows her dramatic chops are on par with her humor, and I sincerely hope to see her in more films as a leading lady, whether they be romantic comedies or not. Adam Devine continues to impress me. He has a quality to him that reminds me of a younger Tom Hanks mixed with a touch of a more restrained Jack Black. I loved him in his Netflix rom-com When We First Met, and in Isn’t It Romantic, he proved that he has longevity in these types of roles. Wilson and Devine’s chemistry remains evident, charming, and thankfully less outlandish, as it was in Pitch Perfect and its first sequel.
I found the weak link in Isn’t It Romantic to be Liam Hemsworth and Priyanka Chopra, but that’s by no fault of their own. Hemsworth is clearly having a lot of fun as the gorgeous yet dull love interest who can’t stop calling Natalie “beguiling.” Like his brother Chris, Liam has a comedic flair that drew a lot of laughs. Chopra’s Isabella is precisely what you would expect from the gorgeous supermodel whose only purpose in the film is to be a romantic rival to the more likable protagonist. She’s the anti-Natalie, perfect in every way men probably fantasize about but without any real depth. Both characters are underwritten and one-dimensional, but I found that to be purposeful and part of the satire.
The screenplay was written by three women (Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Kate Silberman) who have already made their mark in romantic comedies. It’s clear that while they’re fans of the genre, they’re also well aware of its problems, even if they are dealt with by becoming a punchline. Isn’t It Romantic is a charming romantic comedy within a parody of a romantic comedy. It makes fun of the genre while simultaneously celebrating it, reminding us that, yes, these movies are silly and wildly unrealistic, but for the most part, they want to bring us joy and make us feel good. Honestly, in the depressing era of twenty-four-hour news cycles, losing ourselves in an ideal world of cheesy romance and soundtracks full of saccharine is not necessarily a bad thing.