Romantic comedies used to be a staple of Hollywood. The genre is still around but has largely died down over the last few years. Modern day society has a very different view of relationships, dating, and romance compared to a decade ago. Romantic comedies don’t really mirror societal thought on relationships anymore. They’re usually cheesy, melodramatic, and just downright unrealistic. Isn’t It Romantic is a satire film that’s attempting to skewer romantic comedies. Well at least it starts out that way.
The film centers around Natalie (Rebel Wilson), a woman whose mother told her that romantic comedies are fantasies that could never happen for girls like them. She despises romantic comedies as an adult and is closed off to the idea of love. She’s an architect in New York and also the office punching bag. The only person who treats Natalie well is her friend Josh (Adam Devine), who is clearly interested in her but is in the friend zone. Her life is not in the best place but she’s pretty inactive in doing anything about it. She does get a self-esteem boost when a man starts flirting with her on the subway. Then with Natalie’s luck, he tries to mug her. She fights him off but then hits her head on a nearby pole. When she wakes up in an eerily lavish hospital with an overly flirtatious doctor, she realizes that she is trapped in a romantic comedy.
This film starts off very strong with a funny first act that takes place in the real world. Natalie has some hilarious comments about romantic comedies that make for biting, witty satire. She points out all of the flaws they possess and how they are harmful for society, in particular for little girls. The whole first chunk of the movie feels timely and grounded and works really well. I honestly think a nuanced continuation of that part of the film would have made for an incredibly strong movie. The romantic comedy fantasy stuff has fun elements too, it just never works quite as well as those first fifteen minutes.
When the film shifts into fantasy mode, it slowly loses it’s sense of purpose. What starts as smart satire of romantic comedy tropes gradually grows into a film made to honor these same tropes. It starts nice enough with Natalie being appalled at being trapped in a rom-com world that she detests. As the story progresses, the characters are put into cliche situations in attempt to parody them. The only problem is that there isn’t really any parody happening by the end. They are fully in rom-com mode and the only joke is that Natalie knows it’s one. The movie doesn’t make fun of anything by the third act, it only acknowledges that it is a romantic comedy and wears that hat proudly.
The film seems to think that it’s a tale of self love and realization but this just isn’t true. The story never focuses in on Natalie thinking she needs to love herself more. It suggests vaguely throughout that she doesn’t have high self esteem but it never sets up a self love story arc properly. Natalie doesn’t do much work to grow as a person and definitely doesn’t have her show any real reason to realize that she loves herself. In fact, the film portrays more of a stance that Natalie needs a guy and one that is deemed as attainable. This all feels like a sleight to Natalie and the male actor deemed the last resort. When she finally realizes that she needs to love herself, it doesn’t feel earned, but that the filmmaker through it in there because they felt it was a nice thing to do.
The cast elevates the material beyond it’s middling quality level. Rebel Wilson gives it her all as Natalie, bringing playfulness and charismatic charm to the film. Although the film doesn’t earn it’s emotional moments, Wilson handles them with excellent vulnerable strength. Adam Devine is also endearing as Josh, the sweet best friend who just can’t get Natalie’s attention. He’s excellent at making a pretty standard role funny and heartwarming. Liam Hemsworth is also fantastic in this movie as the generic rom-com heartthrob. He had fun with physical comedy and handled the wacky humor incredibly well. I was genuinely impressed with how good he was in this role. The final standout is Brandon Scott Jones, who plays an over-the-top gay stereotype in the rom-com fantasy. He’s hamming it up in a mostly one note role but brings sincerity to the film when necessary.
Isn’t It Romantic? has plenty of good intentions but doesn’t end up actually following through on it’s original goals. While it’s nice to see a high concept romantic comedy film on the big screen, it’d be better with more consistent writing and handling of it’s complex subject matter. It had all of the right elements to be great but it succumbs to being generic in the end. It’s a mild, slightly fun fever dream that is memorable for a moment but ultimately fades with time.