If 2018 was the year that resurrected the romantic comedy, it was only a matter of time before the beloved genre was parodied by those who know it best. “Set It Up” writer Katie Silberman has teamed up with “How to Be Single” writer Dana Fox and co-writer Erin Cardillo for this twist on the rom-com, “Isn’t It Romantic,” directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson and starring Rebel Wilson. Forget Valentine’s Day, this is the perfect movie for celebrating Galentine’s Day.
Three makes a trend, and “Isn’t It Romantic” does fall into the rather unfortunate high-concept subgenre we could call “the head injury attitude adjustment” (see also: “I Feel Pretty” and “What Men Want”). Natalie (Wilson) is a New York architect whose life is far from glam, and whose defensive attitudes about romance and rom-coms are nihilist at best. Her assistant, Whitney (Betty Gilpin), suggests she might try to be more open to opportunity and take a bit of inspiration from the films she so reviles. This leads to some subway eye contact that could either result in a mugging or a meet-cute. In Natalie’s grimy, dangerous world, it’s a mugging.
Thanks to her resultant head injury, Natalie wakes up in a rom-com. The streets are picturesque and spotless; dashing real estate investor Blake (Liam Hemsworth) takes an instant shine to her. Natalie keeps tripping — adorably — and every time she swears, some random ambient noise blares it out. Her grouchy neighbor Donny (Brandon Scott Jones) becomes her gay best friend and makeover montage maven. And her best friend, Josh (Adam Devine), even happens upon a gorgeous model/yoga ambassador, Isabella (Priyanka Chopra), who instantly falls for him. For Natalie, this overly shiny and beautiful world of huge New York apartments and dream dates is pure hell, but she realizes the only way out is through — she’s got to love and be loved.
“Isn’t It Romantic” walks the line between subversive and sendup. It gleefully makes fun of the well-known tropes of romantic comedies while also satisfying our desire to delight in said tropes. While Natalie joshes and jokes, needles and nudges at the stereotypes, the film still offers up The Kiss, The Musical Number, The Slow-Motion Run to Stop a Wedding that the audience craves. This makes it feel a bit defanged — the film could have gone deeper to really unearth some of the more problematic issues of the genre. “Isn’t It Romantic” tackles the representation of gay men, and the problematic idea that women in the workplace are often enemies in these movies. But it doesn’t get at some of the more problematic and frankly creepy behavior by leading men that’s been normalized in rom-coms. The two male leads are harmless here, but there are some missed opportunities to really deconstruct the genre.
However, what’s positively refreshing and radical about “Isn’t It Romantic” is when Natalie finally decides who to love, it’s not one man or the other, but herself. It’s a simple but revolutionary notion within a world that wants to profit off our insecurities, fears and anxieties. It takes an overdose on rom-com sappiness for Natalie to see the solution that’s been in front of her all along. And hopefully, for the audience, it won’t take a blow to the head to embrace the idea, too.