Sunday, June 2, 2019

Isn't It Romantic (2019) Knows How To Be A Copy But Not Exactly Original

Warner Bros. Pictures
Natalie (Rebel Wilson) cherished romantic comedies as a young girl, watching Pretty Woman with wide-eyed optimism and believing her own life could turn into an epic fairytale. When her mom shatters her dreams that women like them don’t get their happily-ever-after, she grows up to be cynical about love and the genre she used to adore. And then she suffers a traumatic concussion and wakes up in her ultimate nightmare: a rom-com. Her life is flipped upside down with an apartment straight out of Architectural Digest, a bustling career, and an impending engagement to a hot yet superficial millionaire (Liam Hemsworth). The only way Natalie can return to reality is to fall in love, but that’s a little hard when it’s the last thing she wants.

As much as romantic comedies have found resurgence on streaming services, the typical genre of a woman searching for the love of her life has changed drastically over the years. Landing Mr. Right while living in a fancy apartment and having a career of every woman’s dreams has made way for rom-coms to feature more realistic views of dating, singledom, and marriage. Modern stories have commonly explored imperfect relationships with female characters struggling to balance work, love, motherhood, and friendships. By trying to take a page out of the chick flicks that have paved the way with tropes and running gags, Isn’t It Romantic doesn’t quite know how to be a parody of the traditional genre and say something new.

From the get-go, the film goes for a 'tell' versus 'show' approach. The director Todd Strauss-Schulson watched 90 romantic comedies over two weeks and noted visual and narrative tropes among them. So the nods to other movies is prevalent throughout: New York City as an idyllic paradise, the "required" dance / karaoke scene, no sex or cursing because of the PG-13 rating, Pretty Woman references in the wardrobe. Everything about the production design between Natalie’s real world and the rabbit hole she falls down shows exactly why we love rom-coms as well as pokes fun at their unrealistic expectations: apartments out of Vogue photoshoots, clothes that are hot off the runway, attainable careers with impractical salaries. It also pokes fun at clich├ęs like the few female characters becoming rivals for no distinct reason and gay characters who are treated more like sideshows than real human beings. And yet the script itself quickly evaporates the charm out of its concept.

On paper, the idea of a female character who is anti-Cupid to her core fighting against this dream world that is designed for her to fall in love is refreshing. We see in her real life how she battles against insecurities, nobody at her job takes her seriously, and her life at home is a real mess. Once she enters the rom-com world, seemingly everything is perfect - she just needs to find someone to love her to complete the picture. The plot is set up for Natalie to find how to love herself as well as a partner who loves her, but the story primarily moves her through the motions. Instead it might've benefited more if Natalie's best friend Whitney was the lead character - someone who lives and breathes romantic comedies and lives out her fantasies only realize they are not all they're cracked up to be. As much as the movie looks exactly like a rom-com, it isn’t instilled with a lot of surprises or clever nods outside of the obvious. The script is meta-enough with loads of charming easter eggs, but the director's knowledge of the genre is more of a vacant backdrop than anything particularly memorable or hilarious.

What the story lacks for in creativity makes up for in the cast. Rebel Wilson has no problems carrying the film as the main lead, especially as a plus-size character in a rom-com which we haven’t seen since Queen Latifah/s earlier flicks. The Australian star has become synonymous with raunchy riffs and pratfalls, but here, it’s not only fun to see her restraint but also Natalie’s journey centered on loving herself just as she is. And the rest of the cast fares well around her too – Liam Hemsworth might just be considered as abs and a pretty face, but like his brother Chris, proves to have great timing as the dumb stud; Adam Devine brings a lot of heart to the regular-boy-next-door- role “we’re not supposed to fall in love with”; Priyanka Chopra is lovely as the yoga ambassador who catches his attention; Betty Gilpin shines as the hopeless romantic in the real world and Natalie’s nemesis in the rom-com world.  Brandon Scott becomes the slight scene-stealer as Natalie’s lowly neighbor in the real world, and the gay best friend in the rom-com world; it’s a role that blurs the line as a caricature as well as a heartwarming performance. Everyone stands out on their own and also creates a rare chemistry as an ensemble, especially in the beguiling ending credits sequence.

There’s a lot of fun to be had with Isn’t It Romantic. The script truly has great ideas to work with, and there are small moments sprinkled throughout the film that can be pinpointed to one beloved rom-com or another. Like most "women's films", it also has a beautiful aesthetic as everything from the sets to the costumes are lovingly lifted from other movies too. And the cast is such an eclectic group of stars the film is truly refreshing in having a plus-size lead discovering her own self-worth. However excluding loose easter eggs on its sister films, Isn't It Romantic could've been more than a surface-level spoof.

Rating for the film: ★1⁄2☆☆
Have you seen Isn't It Romantic? What do you think?

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