I’m a huge fan of romantic comedies, especially ones from the late ‘90s and early 2000s, which is exactly the type of rom-com that Isn’t It Romantic sets in its crosshairs to poke fun at when it comes to tried and true clichés that we’ve come to expect from the genre. In theory the concept is sound, but unfortunately the execution of it comes up incredibly short, leaving the movie to resemble something that would be more aptly called Isn’t It Mundane.
The film starts off on the right foot, with a young girl named Natalie watching Pretty Woman, daydreaming about how she wants to grow up and find someone rich and successful just like Julia Roberts’ character in the film; however, her mother quickly crushes those dreams stating that guys like that simply don’t notice women like them and that happy endings like that just don’t exist. Flash forward to adulthood and Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is an architect in New York City, but her low self-esteem cause’s her to be taken advantage of by co-workers and leave’s her not wanting to take the risks she needs to move up the ladder.
Her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) doesn’t so much assist Natalie as she does just sit at her desk watching romantic comedies all day. This leads Natalie to explain to Whitney why rom-coms are so silly, echoing statements her mother made all those years ago, while also pointing out all the clichés that are to be found in many of the romantic comedies out there, such as the gay friend who spends all his time trying to help the lead get the guy, or the best friend who was the right one in front of her all along. Meanwhile, Natalie’s best friend and co-worker Josh (Adam Devine) tries to motivate Natalie to present her idea to build a parking garage at a new hotel being built by Blake (Liam Hemsworth), a hunky billionaire who Natalie instantly swoons over and wants to impress, but quickly has her beliefs reaffirmed when Blake mistakes her for an assistant during the meeting and sends her for coffee instead.
After work Natalie is mugged in the subway, and while trying to escape she runs into a steel girder and knocks herself out. When she wakes up she finds herself in the hospital where a handsome doctor comes in and explains what happened to her, while also commenting on just how beautiful she is. Natalie isn’t sure what’s going on but asks if she can leave, only to be told her clothes were ruined but they found stuff in the lost and found for her – a replica of Julia Roberts white dress from Pretty Woman. Upon leaving the hospital, Natalie is hit by a limo that belongs to Blake, who now has an Australian accent and is also instantly smitten over Natalie.
After going through a few more rom-com tropes, Natalie realizes she’s trapped inside a romantic comedy and has to figure out a way to escape. Knowing rom-coms as well as she does, Natalie believes that the only way she’ll wake up from this nightmare is if she follows the rom-com rules and gets the guy to fall in love with her. And this is where the film really starts to falter, which is unfortunate, as it’s really the place where things should actually start to get interesting.
The problem is that everything feels so forced. The jokes are predictable, and while the film tries to act as though it’s above rom-coms on some level by playing off of their clichés, the plot ends up feeling tiresome early on, as we know Natalie is just going through the motions that she’s already poked fun at during her conversation with Whitney back at the office. Speaking of Whitney, one of the clichés Natalie pointed out was how at work there’s always a co-worker that the lead actress has a feud with, and in this dream scenario, that co-worker is a bitchy Whitney. That’d be fine, but the joke really ends there. She’s just the bitchy co-worker who throws out a few lines, and never comes into play in the plot at all. It’s because the plot of the movie is all over the place, wanting to be a witty comedy by poking fun at things rom-com audiences have all come to expect when they watch one of these movies, but it never actually gets there. Instead it just feels like an awkwardly paced romantic comedy that’s trying to be meta.
What’s even worse is that the movie doesn’t even follow its own rules. One of the jokes early on is after Blake hits Natalie with his limo he says he’ll drive her home, so we get a shot of the limo driving across the Brooklyn bridge while the two characters talk, and then see it pulling up to Natalie’s apartment. She says, “How’d we get here so fast? that took like 18 seconds,” pointing out that in the rom-com world time only lasts as long as the scenes are. That’d be funny, except that it’s ignored for 95% of the movie after that. I believe they refer to it one more time, but any other time where we skip ahead, Natalie doesn’t acknowledge it.
For example, when she’s on a date with Blake we cut from them being on the dock to them being on his yacht and they’re already eating what she calls “the best meal I’ve ever had.” But we never see her take a bite, she was only chewing when we entered the scene. Then we cut away to them back on land before she takes another bite. If they were going to follow the rules already established, she should have been eager to eat, but never gotten the chance because they moved on to the next scene. And that’s just one example of one rule being broken, so while you’re supposed to believe she’s caught in this bizarre scenario, it constantly takes you out of that by making up rules along the way in order to fit whatever easy joke they want to toss at you at that moment.
There are a few moments where the jokes work, but they’re few and far between, and even at 88-minutes the film feels tedious to get through before even the halfway mark. That’s mainly because instead of trying to do something new with the story direction in this satire aimed at rom-coms, the writers feel content to just settle in and allow the movie to become a cliché rom-com itself that’s just going through the motions.
The actors involved are what save the film from being unwatchable, as Wilson does okay with what she’s given, but also isn’t really a character we feel attached to at any point, which is a bad trait for a film’s protagonist. At no point did I ever really care if she succeeded in her task of getting out of this parallel universe because it felt like we were just following her around so that the writers could throw in gags along the way instead of taking an actual journey with the character. The supporting cast of Hemsworth, Devine and Priyanka Chopra (who plays Josh’s love interest in this dream scenario) clearly have a lot of fun getting to play up on the clichés their type of characters have in these films, but again, there’s just no real substance to latch on to when it comes to the characters or story.
Isn’t It Romantic tries to jump outside the box and break the fourth wall, but in the end while it does point out some well known rom-com tropes, it fails to ever really leave the box nor reach the heights of comedy that an idea like this should have allowed them to reach for. Instead, Isn’t It Romantic ends up just going through the same motions that it set out to poke fun at in the first place, only without the charm and heart found within the rom-coms it had in its crosshairs.
The film looks great, with the proper rom-com lighting and tone being added to the film once Natalie enters the parallel universe. It definitely gives off the feeling that she’s entered a different world that’s a lot brighter, softer and warmer. The sound design is also spot on for the film, with the soundtrack blasting out at all the proper times to point out how the soundtrack often plays a big part in romantic comedies during certain scenes.
I Wanna Dance! – This is a four-and-a-half-minute featurette that just sees the cast and director Todd Stauss-Schulson talk about creating the karaoke dance number for the film, and how much they loved being involved in it and how much fun it was. They also talk about how they designed the final dance number in the film as well.
Deleted Scenes – There are a handful of deleted scenes to be found as well for those interested in seeing what didn’t make the cut.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Presents Isn’t It Romantic. Directed by: Todd Stauss-Schulson. Written by: Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, Katie Siberman. Starring: Rebel Wilson, Liam Hemsworth, Adam Devine, Priyanka Chopra, Betty Gilpin. Running time: 88 Minutes. Rating: PG. Released on Blu-ray: May 21, 2019.
Tags: Adam DeVine, Betty Gilpin, Isn't It Romantic, Liam Hemsworth, Priyanka Chopra, Rebel Wilson