“Isn’t It Romantic” is directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson and stars Rebel Wilson, Adam Devine and Liam Hemsworth, and is advertised as a satire of the “rom-com” genre. Natalie (Wilson) is a cynical, anti-romantic character who grew up being told by her mother that girls like her never get happy endings like in the movies. However, an incident results in Natalie running into a pole, only to wake up in a hyper exaggerated, glossy version of New York where people act and talk like they’re in a romantic comedy. The trailers and marketing for this film did not do it any favors. I was fully prepared to rip this movie to shreds by how not funny and ridiculous it looked. Low and behold, I was wrong in how bad I thought it would be, but it still wasn’t good. “Isn’t It Romantic” is perfectly serviceable and will leave most satisfied, but for me, the winks and nods at its own genre isn’t enough to keep the film from becoming what it’s making fun of.
To start with the positives, when this movie is working as advertised, it really works. A good chunk of the second act is devoted to poking fun at romantic comedies and all their quirks and more unrealistic moments. The best example of this is Liam Hemsworth’s character, Blake, who is a perfect charactaticture for a male lead in a rom-com. He’s loud, boisterous and flexes an expanded vocabulary featuring words that no person uses regularly. A lot of the film’s laughs come from him, and that’s a lot of praise from an actor who has mostly been overshadowed by his brother.
The production design, and general look of the film, is surprisingly terrific. You can tell the people behind the camera put a lot of thought into how they wanted this film to look. All of the shops in the “rom-com” version of New York are incredibly detailed and add a lot to the ridiculous nature of the genre. Even the camera techniques vary from scene to scene, which I found effective and rather surprising for a film like this. Before Natalie’s accident, handheld camera is used to a degree that adds to the Natalie’s rather messy and cynical lifestyle. When she lands in the “rom-com,” the camera is more locked down, most likely using tripods or steadicam to drive home the idea of being in a fantasy world. There’s one shot in an ice cream shop that looked especially incredible. I had to re-evaluate what I was watching because it looked brilliant compared to other flat, bland films in this genre.
However, a solid production and one great performance can’t save this film from ultimately becoming what it’s making fun of. Rebel Wilson doesn’t really carry this movie all that well. Sure, she’s the lead, but she isn’t very likable or funny here. The point is, you’re supposed to fall in love with this character who is rude and pessimistic, but the writing isn’t nearly as strong as it thinks it is. In the end, she falls in the exact same spot as other female leads from rom-coms do, but it doesn’t feel earned in this case. I think this problem derives from the film being plot-centric for a majority of the runtime before it suddenly begs you to care about its characters. The entire second act has little character motivation, only scenes that connect because, “this is what happens next in a generic rom-com.” At times, the scenes themselves are clever, but, in the grander scheme of the film, it doesn’t flow how a movie should. Not to mention, several plot points that are foreshadowed and set-up often go nowhere and are never revisited. A lot of this feels like run time padding to get this film a theatrical release. If you stripped the film of all of its fat, you’d be left with a 45 minute film that would most likely play on T.V. or Netflix. This leaves the final product feeling disjointed and forgettable.
My biggest problem with “Isn’t It Romantic” is its third act. The film takes an hour to bash rom-coms and point out how they’re unrealistic and purely fantasy, only to fall back on becoming one for the last 20 or so minutes. It feels so jarring, mainly because the “comedy” part of the genre is lost completely. Natalie goes from making fun of every stupid cliche to becoming one herself and searching for the one she has to fall in love with. There is a greater message here that is shoved in your face, but it ultimately fails because you don’t care about the characters. The film’s complete reversal in its tone turns this from a pretty fun satire, to a pretty bland and boring conclusion.
You know, I didn’t hate this movie. Some of it is kind of fun and Hemsworth is making a fool of himself for the whole film, so it’s hard not to chuckle once and a while. But, when the joke becomes stale and the film loses what its going for, it’s hard to completely recommend it. This movie is playing right into the Valentine’s Day wave of couples looking for a movie, so if you wanted to see it, you probably already saw it for the holiday. At 87 minutes, the film is pretty painless to sit through, but I ultimately wouldn’t recommend it if it you know you aren’t going to like it. If you’re a fan of this cast, genre or the marketing, check it out and I’m sure you’ll have a blast. I had a chuckle or two, but the movie as a whole didn’t flow well for me.