How dare you skip over the closet makeover montage?!
In my review of When Harry Met Sally… (1989) – which you can check out here – I mentioned how much I fucking love romantic comedies. However, my affinity for the genre is so great, that I just feel like it needs to be reiterated: I fucking love romantic comedies. The beautiful set pieces, the unrealistic grand gestures, the closet montages, the lovable quirkiness, the witty dialogue…I can’t get enough of it. I will happily sit through genuinely terrible rom-coms like Good Luck Chuck (2007) with just as much enthusiasm as I do for genuinely brilliant rom-coms like 10 Things I Hate About You (1999). Naturally, when the trailer dropped for Isn’t It Romantic (2019), a romantic comedy that was upfront about lampooning the genre, I knew I had to add it to my list of movies to see. I mean, an impressive cast, satire, and multiple dance numbers? There was no way this could fail! Right? Turns out, Isn’t It Romantic falls closer to terrible than brilliant, landing among “meh” movies like He’s Just Not That into You (2009).
Rebel Wilson plays Natalie, a cynical NYC architect who despises love, relationships, and above all else, the clichéd and outdated tropes that dominate every romantic comedy. After a bump to the head causes her to wake up in an alternate reality, Natalie is forced to indulge in every ridiculous stereotype as she finds herself living in a real-life romantic comedy. Complete with a workplace nemesis and complicated love triangle, Natalie must play out her love story to the end to return to her old life.
Right off the bat, this movie knew the direction it was going to take. It opens with a young Natalie watching Pretty Woman (1990) while the song “Pretty Woman” is playing, and her alcoholic mother drills into her head how romance simply isn’t realistic. Jump cut to Natalie as an adult, living in a rarely-portrayed-on-screen shitty neighbourhood in New York City, designing parking garages, possessing no love interests, and butting heads with a co-worker who says that she’s, “blind to love.” And then she wakes up in a world where love is literally all around her? Isn’t It Romantic may be original and cheerful, but it certainly isn’t subtle.
That lack of subtlety stems from Wilson who gives a wooden performance that honestly feels like she’s phoning it in. Wilson is a talented comedian, but for the whole movie she comes off bored, uninterested in being there, and desperate to get anybody to laugh at her jokes. Boy, the jokes…It’s almost like two hours of bad stand-up. There are a few diamonds in the rough, but for the majority every punchline boils down to Wilson shouting, “here’s something silly that rom-coms do that wouldn’t make sense in real-life!” Trust me, it grows very old very fast. The jokes are made all the worse when they’re delivered without any enthusiasm or inclination, making me wish that someone like Mindy Kaling or Awkwafina had been cast in the lead role. You know, someone with an abundance of personality who could really take this movie from a “meh” to a “YAASSS!” Look, I realize I say this A LOT, but trust me on this: If Paul Feig had been hired to direct, this movie would have been HILARIOUS. Let’s see how many reviews I can go without wishing that Paul Feig had been the director. Startinggggggggggg…….now.
Competing for Natalie’s affections are Blake, her handsome millionaire client, and Josh, her lovable best friend, played by Liam Hemsworth and Adam DeVine respectively. Wow, it wasn’t until writing this that I realized Wilson and DeVine also played love interests in the Pitch Perfect trilogy (2012 – 2017). By the way, I give it four years before that franchise is unnecessarily rebooted with an all-male cast. Ugh.
Predictably, DeVine is perfectly fine in his role as a comedic sidekick turned love interest, but it’s Hemsworth who ends up stealing the show. Our first real glimpse at seeing him flex his comedic muscles, Hemsworth is surprisingly great in his role as a suave, overly-affectionate, and clueless pretty-boy. He seems to have this natural ability to be lighthearted and jovial, and his comedic timing is fantastic for an actor who’s never starred in an ensemble comedy before. Hemsworth comes off as an actor who’s desperate to show how funny he can be, and I’m more than ready to experience it, but he’s held back by the lacklustre script. During sight gags and physical comedy the surface of his comedic potential is scratched, but the dull dialogue is a real deterrent. I’m on board for Hemsworth to transition into a comedy star, I just hope that next time he picks a project with more solid jokes.
Speaking of bad jokes, one of the characters in the rom-com world is Donny, Natalie’s sassy and stereotypically gay neighbour. Donny dresses flamboyantly, waves his limp wrists about, and speaks with an exaggerated lisp that you’d expect to find in a cartoon short from the 1960s. Look, I get the “joke.” Donny is an amalgamation of all the outdated and hurtful stereotypes and clichés that gay men in romantic comedies are saddled with. It’s another opportunity for the movie to use its favourite punchline, “look, here’s another thing that happens in rom-coms that doesn’t happen in real life!” However, just because you’re pointing out how hurtful and unfunny a joke is, doesn’t make it any less hurtful or unfunny. In fact, the movie does shockingly little to show how unrealistic and wrong these stereotypes are, and instead hopes you’ll still laugh at them but be cool with it because the movie knows that they’re wrong. Confusing, right? Honestly, the whole bit was just tired, lame, and completely out of place in a movie set in 2019, no matter how fantastical. It really left me frustrated and rubbing my temples.
There were some really fun parts of Isn’t It Romantic, but they’re so few and far between that it’s near impossible to enjoy the movie as a whole. The musical numbers are sheer cheesy goodness, Priyanka Chopra is a goddess in every sense of the term, and though the ending is more of a fizzle than a bang, it’s still an original conclusion that partially succeeds in the movie’s original mission to turn the romantic comedy genre on its head. Maybe that’s the bigger problem with Isn’t It Romantic. It’s trying too hard to make fun of romantic comedies, while simultaneously trying to become a new classic in the genre. In trying to do everything, the movie succeeded in accomplishing nothing. It’s like the cast and crew had all the pieces to make a fantastic movie, but never figured out how to make them all fit together. I mean, you know you’ve messed up your rom-com when you completely skip over the closet makeover montage. Like, SERIOUSLY? Are you kidding me movie? You’re going to go to these lengths to parody all of these clichés and then leave out the best one? I can’t with you.
I can see why internationally, Isn’t It Romantic is being released on Netflix. It feels more like a grown-up version of a Disney Channel Original Movie than a groundbreaking take on a genre that is supposedly dead. Seriously, whether you were going to see this movie alone or with your significant other, do yourself a favour and wait for Netflix. Simply put, this movie isn’t strong enough to deserve your price of admission. If Isn’t It Romantic succeeded at anything, it made me really want to re-watch classic rom-coms like Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and 13 Going on 30 (2004), as well as new classics like Love, Simon (2018) and Crazy Rich Asians (2018). Sorry, Isn’t It Romantic. It’s not you. It’s me. No, actually, it’s you.
Have you seen Isn’t It Romantic? What are your favourite rom-coms?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!