Isn’t It Romantic
2019, PG-13, 88 min. Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson. Starring Rebel Wilson, Liam Hemsworth, Adam Devine, Priyanka Chopra, Betty Gilpin, Brandon Scott Jones, Jennifer Saunders, Alex Kis.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 15, 2019
Another weekend highlighted by the release of a rom-com timed to cash in on the Valentine’s Day mood … another movie with a female protagonist who must get bonked on the head in order to see an alternate reality of self-affirmation. Between Isn’t It Romantic and last weekend’s release of the Taraji P. Henson headliner What Men Want (not to mention last spring’s Amy Schumer vehicle I Feel Pretty), the lesson seems to be that only a brain-rattling concussion can allow a woman to see (or hear, in the case of What Men Want) the truth about modern-day sexual relations. To their credit, these movies all argue that their heroines must learn to love themselves before honestly loving someone else. Nevertheless, in spite of these welcome notes of self-positivity, the movies want to have it both ways: receive our Valentine’s Day bonbons and eat them, too.
Of these, Isn’t It Romantic delivers the sharpest critique of our romantic mores in the form of its lead character Natalie (Wilson), a professional woman who allows herself to be undervalued at work and in life. Our first image of her is as a young girl (played by Alex Kis) sitting inches from the TV screen, raptly watching Pretty Woman while her blowsy mother (Saunders) admonishes that they don’t make movies about “girls like us.” Twenty-five years later, that little girl has grown up into a sardonic woman who can spend a day at work enumerating for her rom-com-addicted assistant Whitney (Gilpin) all the reality-defying hallmarks of the genre. She also friend-zones Josh (Devine, who has also served as Wilson’s love interest in the first two Pitch Perfect movies), her biggest supporter at her firm and a guy who’s clearly in love with her. Following her concussion, Natalie is pursued by the rich and handsome Blake (Hemsworth), her apartment suddenly improves in size and decor, and her next-door weed dealer (Jones) morphs into the genre’s requisite gay best friend (whom even the movie’s dialogue calls out as an offensive stereotype). Although her reality has somehow been transformed into a romantic comedy, Rebel Wilson’s signature sarcasm nicely undercuts the genre’s perks.
The screenplay by Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman nails the mechanics of a rom-com, even if it takes Wilson’s delivery to drive the lessons home. Scenes are succinct and the movie comes in at 88 minutes even with a tacked-on song-and-dance video at the end (as a nod to the film’s wildly successful karaoke-bar sequence earlier in the film). Even so, there are several throwaway sequences, such as Josh’s meet-cute and follow-up romance with Isabella (Chopra) and a gal-pals-become-competitive-enemies scene that’s a requisite for the genre but thoroughly unnecessary here. With all due respect to Rodgers and Hart, Isn’t It Romantic, the film, is “a dream that can be heard,” but only as a counter melody to the main theme.