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Isn’t It Romantic is the Scream of romantic comedies. While criticizing formulas, it follows a formula: enumerating all the boxes that a certain genre of film ticks while then proceeding to tick those boxes itself in the name of parody. Though no longer original, the approach is still clever and offers the opportunity for a smart critique when done right.
Todd Strauss-Schulson’s film only sometimes gets it right. Written by a trio of women—Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman—Isn’t It Romantic stars Rebel Wilson as Natalie, a New York City architect who’s treated like an underling by her office mates. She’s single, ostensibly the reason she hates romantic comedies, which her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) likes to watch instead of working. When Whitney tries to get some more time to finish one, Natalie launches into a multi-day screed about why they’re “toxic,” starting with the relatively benign, “This ends like all stupid romcoms do!” (Yes, it’s a montage. See what they did there?) She’s friends with co-worker Josh (Adam Devine), whose invitations to karaoke she nonetheless repeatedly turns down.
One day, Natalie is mugged on a subway platform and knocks herself unconscious when she runs into a column. She wakes up in a hospital with a handsome doctor who tells her how beautiful she is. She’s given a couture outfit to leave the hospital in (somehow, her clothes were ruined in the collision). And she immediately meets Blake (Liam Hemsworth), a rich businessman who’s also taken by her—after his limo hits her. Unfortunately, it’s not the last time Wilson will be subject to a violent pratfall.
Natalie also discovers that she has a fabulous apartment and a gay best friend who doesn’t have a job. In other words: Her life has turned into a romantic comedy. It’s at this point that the film indulges in a bit of sentimentality: “People are treating me like I’m special,” she confesses to Blake. “And I’m not special.” Of course, everyone from that point onward begs to differ, and Natalie ends up with not just one romantic interest but two, because that’s what the formula dictates.
Isn’t It Romantic is often funny but ultimately forgettable. On one hand, the filmmakers are to be commended for casting the plus-size and wonderfully expressive Wilson in the starring role (her first turn as a leading lady). On the other, however, it gives the movie a Shallow Hal feel: Just as Gwyneth Paltrow in that film was only deemed attractive when her “inner beauty” was seen—i.e., when Gwyneth looked like Gwyneth, no longer in a fat suit—the message of Isn’t It Romantic seems to be that Natalie can get the guy only when her life is orchestrated to be a rom-com. (Indeed, she’d already met Blake in a meeting to which she brought coffee for herself but he took it, saying, “Oh, thanks, hon.”)
The scripters try to circumvent the tropes and inject a little feminist spirit into the plot development, though it turns out to be somewhat of a cheat. In the meantime, you’ll laugh at Natalie’s cynicism and probably agree with her that romantic comedies are the worst. When she realizes what has happened to her, she moans, “How do I get to the end?” You may not want to rush to the cheery conclusion of Isn’t It Romantic, but you won’t be sad when you get there, either.
Isn’t It Romantic opens Wednesday in theaters everywhere.