A film review by Craig J. Koban September 22, 2019

ISN'T IT ROMANTIC jjj

2019, PG-13, 88 mins.

 

Rebel Wilson as Natalie  /  Adam DeVine as Josh  /  Liam Hemsworth as Blake  /  Priyanka Chopra as Isabella  /  Betty Gilpin as Whitney

Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson  /  Written by Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman

I've frequently complained about the relative sameness of romcom entries, with so many that have been released over the years all feeling like they're made of the same regurgitated parts.  

ISN'T IT ROMANTIC is, at least in some decent respects, an antidote this genre's most overused conventions, not to mention that it's a solid starring vehicle for Rebel Wilson (her solo debut).  It's a romantic fantasy that offers up a pretty intoxicating premise ripe for all sorts of comic possibilities: A career minded woman that has grown to loathe romantic movie comedies finds herself whisked right into one.  ISN'T IT ROMANTIC is as high concept of a romcom has you're likely to find, and it displays ample enthusiasm and wit in sending up and satirizing the genre, but all while still managing to fall victim (to a degree) of adhering to some of its formulas. 

The movie has a cheeky opening flashback scene that introduces us to Natalie, a child that's addicted to romcoms (especially PRETTY WOMAN), despite her mother explaining to her that these films are pure rubbish and that she should instead accept the fact that women like them have zero chance of attaining the happiness of heroines from these stories.  We then get whisked to the present and the adult Natalie (Wilson) is a struggling architect  now working in Manhattan that has grown to - thanks to the seed planted by her mother - despise everything romcoms represent.  Worse yet is that she struggles daily to make a name for herself in her firm, and even when she has several good ideas to give to her company's newest hotshot rich client in Blake (Liam Hemsworth), he brushes her off instantly by mistakenly thinking that she's a secretary.  Outside of her office BFF in Josh (Adam Devine), she doesn't have much in the way of friends or a social life.  

One day changes her life forever.  After accidentally getting knocked unconscious during a random mugging she awakens and discovers that everything around her just...seems...off.  Her New York neighborhood seems candy colored and clean, everyone around her appears incomparably polite and charming, and - gasp! - that millionaire hotshot client in Blake re-emerges in her life and seems to be completely taken in with her.  Eventually, Natalie realizes that she's trapped within her worst nightmare: she's become the feature star of her very own romcom, a realm where the impossible can happen, like a "CW hot" guy like Blake falling in love with her or the average looking Josh attracting the gaze of an insanely attractive supermodel "yoga ambassador" in Isabella (Priyanka Chopra).  Theorizing that perhaps the only way to get back to her realm is to go with her romcom journey, Natalie decides to see her "story" through to the end, which means giving herself over to the constant advances of Blake and having to put up with Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles" blaring on the seemingly everywhere. 

 

 

ISN'T IT ROMANTIC seems to understand most of the romcom formulas that are the most worthy of mocking and, in turn, has a splendid time sending them all up.  Natalie's real world New York area is a ghettoized hell hole, whereas in her fantasy realm it's adorned with street signs containing inviting fonts and there appears to be cute little cupcake stores at nearly every vantage point.  Also, Natalie's real world pot dealing neighbor becomes a homosexual bestie sidekick in the romcom world, one that's flamboyantly gay, has no life outside the one he curates to help Natalie, and has a supernatural ability to appear to assist her at any inopportune moment (another staple trait character that occupies so many real romcoms).  Natalie's home life has vastly improved in her new world, with her apartment becoming unfathomably large with the closet space and shoe collection of a millionaire (this adheres to one of the more annoying conceits of movies that feature characters living in luxurious accommodations that they could never afford in the real world).  And no romcom within a romcon would be complete with Natalie having an office colleague that exists to hate her for no reason whatsoever in Whitney (a very funny Betty Gilpin), who appears in this la la land as a toxically anti-social witch to Natalie at the office, whereas in the real world she's a mousy introvert that sits at her desk all day and secretly watches, yes, romcoms. 

There are a handful of other clever touches here too, like the way that there's always some conveniently placed outside noise that prevents anyone from hearing Natalie belt out F-bombs (she lives in a PG-13 fantasyland, not an R rated one that would allow for such potty mouthed antics).  And in one of the better sequences in the film when Natalie finally beds the hunky Blake she can't even savor it...because just before they're about to have sex...her world automatically fades out and back in to the next morning (you also can't have sex and nudity in a PG-13 romcom either).  The more Natalie tries to acclimate to her new surroundings the more it grows to aggravate her, and one of the pleasures of ISN'T IT ROMANTIC is the presence of Wilson, who delivers a relatably grounded performance that's also funny based on her ever escalating anxiety and frustrating with her predicament.  I've been tough on Wilson before (I found her thoroughly unfunny in this past year's THE HUSTLE), but she keeps her typical overbearing schtick to a commendable minimum here.  Plus, she mixes sass, cynicism, and vulnerability rather well here to make Natalie one of her more easily likeable roles. 

The rest of the cast built around Wilson are a hoot as well, and all seem equally game to play within this satiric sandbox.  Adam Devine's involvement in any film usually doesn't inspire much confidence in me (he was so thoroughly dislikable in the fingernails on a chalkboard annoying and awful MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES), but here he's surprisingly collected and understatedly appealing.  Priyanka Chopra is quite well cast as the luscious "yoga ambassador" that falls for Devine's schlub, and she has a lot of fun at humor directed at her physical assets.  Perhaps the real comic find of the film is Liam Hemsworth, an actor who's arguably lived under the much larger shadow of his bother Chris and hasn't really shown himself to be memorable leading man material.  But, much like his sibling, he's more than up to the challenge of spoofing his own pretty boy image in a role that requires a lot of self-referential goofiness (he has this hilarious running gag of using the word "beguiling" constantly to describe Natalie).  I think Hemsworth has found his calling here in comedy: he's never been more infectiously silly and charming in a film.   

For as much as I enjoyed ISN'T IT ROMANTIC as a take down of lame romcom troupes, it still manages, as mentioned earlier, to adhere to many of them as well to deliver a romcom that will ultimately satisfy viewers and fans of the genre.  It's a case of a film having its cake and eating it too, and even though it takes a deft touch to segue between lambasting genre formulas while indulging them, there's a fair point to be made that ISN'T IT ROMANTIC lacks a bit of raw nerve to see it's premise through in ways that I hoped it would.  It also has one too many musical numbers, the first showing up within the magic romcom universe and the other oddly outside of it, featuring every cast member singing and gyrating to Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" while preaching to the loveable virtues of the genre.  It's cute and amusing (seeing Hemsworth fake rock a saxophone in front of a wind machine is knee slapping), but it also kind feels like the makers are cheating a bit.  ISN'T IT ROMANTIC is an engagingly self-aware and winning comedy satire that deserves a watch, but a bit more sarcastic edge and nerve could have propelled it to more..."beguiling" heights. 

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