Movie Review: Isn't It Romantic (2019)
The problem with most movie parodies is that they wind up buying into the tropes of the genre they’re satirizing. The person who is incompetent and/or cowardly at the beginning (who is us, basically), becomes, by the end, a hero in the Hollywood mold (them):
“Isn’t It Romantic” is a little better than most of these because it actually takes issue with its genre, romantic comedies, and in particular the notion that validation comes from another person. It picks this bone. At one point, we get a rousing version of the rom-com perennial, Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” but the movie’s message is closer to Whitney’s “The Greatest Love of All”: Love yourself before you inflict you on other people.
Like that, but nicer. Too nice, really. That's the problem.
Her three issues
Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is a smart, pudgy, Aussie girl living in a small apartment in New York City with her dog. She’s an architect, and manages several people at her firm, including Whitney (Betty Gilpin), a dowdy girl who watches rom-coms on her computer. Natalie lets her even though she doesn’t like rom-coms. Early in the movie, she tears into all the stupid tropes: the gay sidekick who has no life of his own; the bitchy coworker intent on ruining our hero; the false love, the true love; the run in slow-mo at the end to let the true love know they’re the true love. Etc.
Natalie has her own true love—or at least someone who wants a date—Josh (Adam Devine), but she thinks so little of herself she can’t pick up the vibes everyone is feeling for blocks around. She also lets others at the firm run roughshod over her. It’s not just Whitney and her movie-watching on company time. The office manager asks her to fix what is the office manager’s job; a hunky billionaire client, Blake (Liam Hemsworth), sends her for coffee; and she literally takes the trash from some chairbound goober too lazy to throw it out on his own.
Got that? These are her issues:
- She lets others boss her around (because she has low self-esteem)
- She doesn’t realize Josh likes her (because she has low self-esteem)
- She hates rom-coms (because she’s smart)
Since we know the premise of the movie, we already know what’s going to happen: Being trapped in the third thing will help her overcome the first two.
During a subway mugging, she conks her head. When she comes to, everything is perfect: the emergency room is like “a Williams Sonoma,” her apartment is huge and stocked with every shoe imaginable, her standoffish neighbor, Donny (Brandon Scott Jones), is suddenly her gay best friend, Whitney is now her ultra-bitchy coworker, and Blake, who sent her for coffee, is suddenly dazzled by her sight. My favorite bit is when she realizes what’s happened, and every swear word is blotted out by a truck backing up. “My life’s become a [beep beep] romantic comedy!” she cries helplessly. “And it’s PG-13!”
Given that reality, or fantasy, some might have just enjoyed the ride but not her. She fights it all the way. At the same time, she’s not particularly smart about it. For someone who knows the tropes, she doesn’t exactly call them to her aid. And as funny as Wilson is, she’s not quite actor enough to pull all this off. Many times I was confused about how Natalie was actually feeling.
At the same time, to break the spell, she knows what to do: fall in love. With Blake, she assumes. But even in the rom-com world he’s an asshole, so she finally realizes, “Oh, I’m supposed to be with Josh.” Except he’s already involved in his own impossible rom-com relationship with “Yoga ambassador” Isabella (Priyanka Chopra)—the supermodel whose billboard the real Josh stares at all day. All of which leads to her breathless run to the chapel to stop his wedding; instead, that's where she gets her Whitney Houston epiphany: “Learning to love yourself....” Then a car accident, bump on the head, and back to reality.
Like Dorothy and Ebenezer
I like how they do this. So many magic-realism/personal betterment movies, from “Liar Liar” to “What Women Want” and on down the line, never explain how the magic happens. It just does. Here? She was in an induced coma for 18 hours after the subway mugging. It was all a dream. Like with Dorothy and Ebenezer.
The dream still changes her—like with Dorothy and Ebenezer. At work, she becomes assertive, makes her presentation (which is a metaphor for her), and confronts Josh. Another nice bit, actually. She tells him to stop staring at the billboard supermodel outside her window. Josh smiles, gets her to sit in his seat, then he sits in hers and asks, “What do you see?” She realizes, from his angle, he can’t see the billboard out the window; he can only see her. Tears well up. Not just in her eyes, I imagine.
Sadly, the movie ends on a high note, a singalong to Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” in celebration of love and “yourself.” Shame they didn’t go back to Natalie’s earlier criticism of rom-coms ending on a high note—the lovers getting together—since, after that moment, the rest is just life. Why not give us a glimpse of Josh and Natalie in two years or 10? Kids or not? Just the everyday of it. Homer eating pork rinds and watching bowling on TV.
The screenplay was written by three women (Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, Katie Silberman) and directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson, whose previous film, “The Final Girls,” was similar: teenagers trapped in an ’80s slasher film. Is this his thing now? If so, what genre would you like to see him lampoon next? Hopefully with more teeth?