A few short months ago I was writing about a dearth of romantic comedy of late, the result of mid-budget studio pictures going out of style in Hollywood and the fickle tastes of a cynical public. Between last summer’s Netflix binge and now Isn’t it Romantic, it’s safe to say the genre is back.
As Natalie, a former idealist brought down to earth by life and a scummy mother, Rebel Wilson is Exhibit A for that cynical public. She’s one of the eternally flustered, put-upon at work and shut-down at love. She’s a rom-com hater and she’s not open to happy endings. So life throws her a coma and one hell of an alternate universe: she’s stuck in a romantic comedy where New York doesn’t smell, nobody can swear, and her gay sidekick is everywhere. Isn’t it Romantic is intermittently funny, but romantic in the end, and it works in spite of its shortcomings. Wilson and friend-zone extraordinaire Adam Devine enjoy great chemistry, and when the inevitable comes for Natalie in the form of that age-old, long-time friend becoming more than that, the audience can’t help but laugh, cry, and cheer. They’re that good together. Take a mid-point musical number at a karaoke club, a definite highlight as director Todd Strauss employs great sound, game performers, and wicked editing to create a delightful coming-out party for Natalie’s long-dormant will and confidence.
Celebrating and satirizing the genre at the same time, it aims for glory and often falls just short of it, sometimes coming off needy, not inspired. A mid-credits musical number strives for the same energy as that earlier dazzler and instead feels desperate. No matter, they’re only the credits after all. Not when Rebel’s doin’ her thing, Devine’s charming our socks off, and Liam Hemsworth is taking a clue from elder Chris and turning on the goof, Australian twang n’ all. Shout out to Brandon Scott Jones as the raging queen in her fantasy, a gay sidekick with a hidden soul and more to offer than she knows, and to Betty Gilpin as her rom-com-loving best friend in the real world, and her seething boss in the fake world. When we first meet her she’s crying to The Wedding Singer, so I was instantly on board. Priyanka Chopra rounds out the cast as a swimsuit model and foil for Natalie in Rom-Com World, proving she can sing, dance, and intimidate like the best of ’em. The lively ensemble goes a long way toward selling each stereotype as somebody to laugh at and fall in love with.
Isn’t it Romantic is too desperate for rom-com glory to really achieve such lofty goals, and yet it makes us swoon and smile regardless. Rebel Wilson is a star and she’s surrounded by a cast of somebodies who imbue every cliche with heart, and so goes the movie itself.
P.S. During an 18-hour coma Natalie’s dog was stuck in that apartment all by herself? WTF?