Isn’t It Romantic (2019)
None of the Feels.
As a romantic comedy enthusiast, I was super excited for Netflix’s new chick flick Isn’t It Romantic, which was released locally (here in Australia) on the streaming giant, despite being dropped theatrically in some foreign markets, including the States. As its title suggest, this is a rom-com that aims to poke fun at its own genre tropes and trappings.
The film sees disenchanted Natalie (Australia’s own Rebel Wilson) living out an ordinary New York City life — she catches the train to her job, working as an underappreciated architect, and resides in a dodgy apartment. She does, however, hate romantic comedies. Well, it’s more than just hate, she out-and-out loathes them, and this is kinda understandable, given that glossy pictures like Pretty Woman (1990), when growing up Down Under in the ’90s, gave her unrealistic expectations for the future, luring her into a distorted sense of reality — her cynical mother (Jennifer Saunders pulling an unconvincing Aussie accent) reminds Natalie that IRL there’s no such thing as a ‘happily ever after’ for ‘girls like us.’
Anyhow, as it so happens poor Natalie, on her regular commute home one evening, is mugged in the subway and subsequently knocked into a coma. When she wakes, though, she very quickly realizes that she’s trapped in a PG-13 rom-com (dear lord!), with singing, choreographed dance routines, and surrounded by fine-looking folk. In this new reality her workmate/ personal assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) is now her sworn enemy/ rival, coz that’s what it’s like in these schmaltzy entertainers, and her hostile next door neighbor Donny (Brandon Scott Jones), well, he’s become her stereotypical flamboyant gay best friend.
Although the trailers hint at grander things, Isn’t It Romantic struggles to deliver on this front — it doesn’t really flip the formula on its head. There’s nothing overly novel or particularly appealing about the proceedings, or at least nothing we haven’t seen before — a sin of director Todd Strauss-Schulson, who’s movie-within-a-movie scream queen send-up, Final Girls (2015), also suffers from. Similarly, Isn’t It Romantic follows the same eye-rolling rom-com plotline — girl and boy are friends, girl doesn’t realize that love was staring at her right in the face all along. The only slightly refreshing aspect here are the constant jabs at how lame rom-coms can sometimes be, though the film continues to play out the clichéd story beats and situations with Wilson pretty much narrating/ anticipating everything before it even transpires (and so too can the audience). So, it pokes fun at the recipe while simultaneously adhering to it — if rom-coms are your jam, you’ll probably enjoy what’s on offer, but those looking for something a little more unique, maybe look elsewhere.
It’s also worth noting that the pic distinguishes the difference between Rom-Com Land and the real world via some clever contrasting set/ costume design and cinematography — so basically, anyone can tell where we are at any given moment. Rom-Com Land is glossy and picturesque (there are fine-scented flowers in literally every corner, what’s up with that?) and everyone is dressed immaculately, while Real Life Land depicts NYC for what it mostly is, a dirty, busy and casual concrete jungle. And, with most of the action taking place in the former, the flick is pretty fluffy and light on its feet.
The chief saving grace of this film is its talent. The always-affable Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect (2012), is her usual charming self, and it’s great to see ‘Fat Amy’ paired up with Adam ‘Bumper’ DeVine again, (Pitch Perfect tragic right here!), who plays her good friend/ colleague Josh, being one of two potential love interests. The best moment in the movie is a karaoke scene, where Natalie breaks out into song at a trendy bar (cue Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’) complete with backup singers, which speedily morphs into an all-out dance number, this paying (subtle) homage to the Pitch Perfect series.
Special mention also goes out to Liam Hemsworth (potential suitor number two), who, let’s be honest, isn’t the favorite Hemsworth. He pulls off the sexy jerk client-turned love interest Blake perfectly, and doesn’t take himself too seriously — he’s quite ‘beguiling.’ The same can be said for Priyanka Chopra, who plays yoga instructor Isabella, finding herself falling head over heels for Josh, the Bollywood sensation constantly lighting up the screen with her stunning smile — as always. It is obvious that she, and everyone else for that matter, is having a jolly good time, and I guess their fun is contagious. This is especially evident in the final scene, when all the stars get together for another silly song-and-dance ditty, which resulted in me wanting to get off my seat and bust a move, too!
Overall, Isn’t It Romantic has enough bells and whistles to keep one somewhat amused, and several standout sequences to boot, but the film never quite leaves us anxiously anticipating what’s going to happen to next — because we already know! But I guess it’s this narrative predictability and derivativeness that makes the performances shine. By sticking to the usual Hallmark romantic schlock, Isn’t It Romantic was always going to be feel-good type fodder, just like junk food — tasty while it lasts but lacking any sort of substance. Nothing new to see here folks, but a good time-filler if you’re up for it.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by L. Jackson