Isn’t It Romantic (2019) Review
A HUMOROUS SATRICAL ROM-COM
With Hollywood studios investing money in big-budgeted tentpole features or in smaller scale artistic films (ones that are worthy of Oscar / award nominations), the subgenre of romantic comedies is left somewhere in the middle of those two extreme juggernaut film genres. Naturally, romantic comedies movies, which are both a subgenre to both the romance and comedy movie genres, have been around for quite some time; featuring a motion pictures with light-hearted, humorous, and dramatic stories that are usually centered around romantic nuances (i.e. such as “true love” and are able to tackle problematic obstacles (be it family, friends, or some unseen challenge). Additionally, like many films from other genres, romantic comedies can range from a wild array of styles; pulling from other movie genres in order to try to appeal to a “wider” audience. Some classic romantic comedy film endeavors include 1940’s The Philadelphia Story, 1953’s Roman Holiday, 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1987’s The Princess Bride, 1989’s When Harry Met Sally, 2007’s Waitress, 2017’s Big Sick, and 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians. Now, New Line Cinema (under the umbrella banner of Warner Bros. Pictures) prepares to take a satirical look at this particular genre with the film Isn’t It Romantic. Is this parody romantic comedy worth a glance or is it a flat and uninteresting comically jab at rom-coms?
Natalie (Rebel Wilson), an Australian architect living in the thick of New York City, dislikes romantic comedies since her mother (Jennifer Saunders) forced her to look at the films in a more cynical and unrealistic viewpoint. In her adult life, Natalie is a closed-off person who doesn’t assert herself in at workplace, mundanely going through the motions of just trying to get by. However, after going a long tangent about the unrealistic notions of rom-coms to her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) and her best friend Josh (Adam DeVine), Natalie is mugged on the subway and knocked unconscious, waking up in the surreal and idealistic world of a romantic comedy. In this world, Natalie has all the trimmings and tropes found in rom-coms, including a luxurious studio apartment, a gay BFF Donny (Brandon Scott Jones), a fun and lively start-up workplace, Whitney is now her mortal work enemy, and she accidentally comes across Blake (Liam Hemsworth), who finds her quite “beguiling”. Though Josh seems to be the same, Natalie doesn’t get much help from him in figuring out to escape this PG-13 rom-com universe since he soon gets swept up in his own romance in the very beautiful swimsuit model Isabella (Priyanka Chopra). Now, Natalie must play out the commonplace narrative of romantic comedies in order to get back to her world, but (along the way) she’ll have to learn certain lessons about love and about herself before returning.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I know, I know…. if this opening paragraph sounds familiar it’s because I took it from my opening paragraph for my review for Crazy Rich Asians. The reason? Not because I’m lazy or anything like that, but because it served its purpose it getting my point across. As does this paragraph of what you are about to read. So…. (without further ado) …. I’ve stated before on my blog that some of my favorite movie genres are action, fantasy, and animated. I do like other films genres out there, but those particular ones are my personal favorite. That being said, I do like watching some of the “romantic comedy” movies. To me (for the most part), I like watching them as they are usually (as stated above) “light-hearted”, which means that I really don’t have to pull that much effort into watching the movie (i.e. not stressed out / nail-biter “edge of your seat” endeavor or a perplexing “highbrow” thinking feature that will having me scratch my head). They usually play the same two or three type of scenarios for the story’s plot (i.e. two lovers presented with a challenge and test their love throughout the feature), but these mostly work for a cinematic endeavor, with several films trying to add other nuances and aspects to try to make-up for the familiar terrain. To me, I do watch these movies usually when I really don’t want to get fully “invested” in a movie or when I’m doing something “around the house” (cleaning up or doing work) as background noise). Of course, there are plenty of romantic comedies out there, but the ones that I usually watch are like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Sweet Home Alabama, This Means War, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and The Princess Bride just to name a few. However, 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians was definitely one of my personal favorites of all time; acting almost like definitive version of what a romantic comedy should be (in every sense of the word). In the end, while this subgenre might be “dismissed” by some of those movie snobs out there, the romantic comedy genre is still a favorable / popular one that should not be overlooked.
This brings me back to talking about the movie Isn’t It Romantic, the latest Hollywood theatrical motion picture that takes a satirical bite out of the romantic comedy genre. To be honest, I vaguely hearing about this movie online. Of course, I didn’t give it too much credence, so I kind of overlooked it altogether. Personally, I thought it was just gonna be another generic rom-com film and not a parody version of the movie genre. This is why I really didn’t even do a blog post on the film’s trailer as I kind of discarded the film. However, that changed when I saw the film’s movie trailer, which I only once or twice during my weekly movie tonight outings at my local theater. Judging by the film’s trailer, it looked like the feature would deliver on its promise on being satire for the genre, embracing all its cliché and commonplace quirks. Plus, like romantic comedies themselves, it looked to be a lighthearted cinematic endeavor, which (in this case) is a good thing. Thus, I went into the movie knowning that the movie will be a cliché of sorts, but would have a sense of self-awareness of its rom-com obscurities. So, what did I think of it? Well, to be honest, it was pretty good. While it doesn’t “reinvent” the wheel and certain areas could’ve been expanded upon, Isn’t It Romantic is just as lighthearted and delightful charm as the film subgenre its poking fun of. Its not the definitive version of classic romantic comedy endeavor, but it’s still great cinematic fun of those classic tropes in the movie; making the feature endearing to watch.
Isn’t It Romantic is directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson, whose previous directorial works include such feature film projects like A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas and The Final Girls as well as several TV episodes and short film endeavors. Thus, given his past background, Strauss-Schulson makes the most of his position with this particular movie, which is probably the biggest film to date, as he tackles the romantic comedy genre. To his credit, Strauss-Schulson succeeds in that regard, making Isn’t It Romantic perhaps his best theatrical project to date and seems to embrace all the clichés and tropes that usually accompany a romantic comedy. Rather than tearing down the film subgenre and featuring a plethora of current popular culture references like some of the latter 2000s era parody comedy movies (i.e. Scary Movie 5, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, The Starving Games, and Vampire Sucks), Strauss-Schulson seems to celebrate the movie subgenre and is clearly a “love letter” to anyone who loves watching rom-coms, especially ones from late 80s to the early 2000s. Of course, the feature has all the commonplace trimmings and ideas, including a super hyper-idealized world that’s full of stereotypical stock-like characters (i.e. the romantic male leads, the gay friend, the villainous co-worker, the oblivious love interests) as well as atypical scenarios (i.e. makeover montage, cheesy love pop songs, and dance number sequences). It’s all the overall genetic make-up of a standard romantic comedy, but Strauss-Schulson seems to present the material in both a humorous way (as we see through Natalie’s eyes on how everything plays formulaic) as well in a fan service to the viewers who love romantic comedies. Of course, the film’s lessons are also tried and true, finding Strauss-Schulson keeping very much in line with rom-coms’s motif and thematic mottos of love and what it means to be truly happy. Additionally, the feature’s runtime is relatively short (roughly 88 minutes long) as Strauss-Schulson keeps the feature tight, making the movie rather breezy and never overstays its welcome. All in all, Strauss-Schulson certainly does make Isn’t It Romantic a charming and delightful self-aware feature that feels fun and refreshing for those who love romantic comedies.
Working alongside Strauss-Schulson are the movie’s script writers, with Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman, which seem to “deconstruct” the classic romantic comedy ideals and scenarios and present them in a humorous satire light. Of course, the movie’s narrative / story is quite straightforward with very few surprise or twists (more on that below), but it definitely works in the feature’s favor as well as being a “sendup” to the whole film subgenre (as a whole), delivering an amusing and unabashed story of romantic comedy fantasy that both pokes fun at it as well as honoring it. It’s a duality that plays the film’s strength, which makes the film’s overall charm so appealing.
As theatrical presentation, Isn’t It Romantic is quite good, invoking (visually speaking) a lot stylish and glamourous feels that usually a romantic comedy displays within its feature…a sort of gloss / glamorous backdrop setting of an urban fantasy cityscape. It definitely a humorous joke that the movie plays up frequently, but its surefire positive for the movie, especially since its quite pleasing to the eye. Basically, if you’ve several rom-coms (over the years) … then you’ll know what I’m talking about as the film’s visual and overall look and appeal within its backdrop setting feels very much beautiful and alluring (as with any endeavors from this drama (i.e. a hyper reality sense of the world). Thus, the efforts made by the film’s team, including the art direction by Doug Huzsti, production designs by Sharon Seymour, set decorations by Alyssa Winter, and costume designs by Leah Katznelson truly do stand out and definitely are positive plus for the feature. Additionally, the film’s cinematography by Simon Duggan and film editing by Andrew Marcus are good as well. Granted their efforts on this project won’t get them nominated for any awards or anything like that, but the way the film is put together (be it camera angles, lightening, or editing sequences together) is well-made and definitely to the overall flavor of the feature.
Likewise, the movie’s score, which was composed John Debney, is a rather good and definitely feels like very much “in line” with the romantic comedy cinematic arena (i.e. lightly melodic and uplifting), the film’s soundtrack is probably even better; finding the music selection, including Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles”, Annie Lennox’s “I Love You’s”, Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me), and Chris De Burgh’s “Lady in Red”, to be very much in-line with the romantic comedy premise (of which have been used in those types of particular films as well). As I said, it definitely adds to the overall flavor to the feature and becomes just as humorous (and just as melodic) as the story / characters that are displayed on-screen.
Where Isn’t It Romantic fails is in the exploration of its own romantic comedy clichés and common inner workings of the film subgenre. What do I mean? Well, the movie, while definitely hitting all the right notes in what makes a rom-com essentially a rom-com, it also seems to skim the surface on many of those very same aspects it’s trying to cover. In a nutshell, Strauss-Schulson (as well as the film’s trio of writers) seems to touch every base of the commonly used elements and tropes that are found in a romantic comedy, but never fully encompass some of the ideas. They do on some, but some are just simply presented and are left somewhat unresolved and are just simply there as “window” dressing for its satirical nuances to the genre. Yes, I do understand that the movie does have a short runtime, which (again) acts as a breezy feature, and I do know this more of a parody comedy endeavor that’s trying to seem how cliché everything is within a classic rom-com, but I was expecting certain elements to go a bit deeper rather than just leaving certain sub-plot narrative threads dangling, especially when somethings are presented as important (i.e. concerning matters of the heart) and end up being shallow.
Additionally, since the movie takes to poke fun at the romantic comedy films (in general terms), the overall premise (whether good, bad, or indifferent) is extremely predictable and formulaic. Again, I do understand that the movie is a comedic parody of sort of these types of movies, but adding something a bit “different” and unexpected would’ve been a bit of refreshing. I just guess that’s the nature of the game when doing a project like this…. think of 2000’s Scary Movie or 2001’s Not Another Teen Movie.
The cast in Isn’t it Romantic is a pretty solid one, with plenty of recognizable faces from the selected group of actors and actresses that play the various characters in the feature. Collectively, it’s very crystal clear (from the get-go) that the entire cast seem to have a great understanding (and appreciation) for romantic comedies and seem to be having a ball in their roles (no matter how big or small). Headlining the film is actress Rebel Wilson, who plays the central protagonist character of Natalie. Wilson, known for her roles in the Pitch Perfect trilogy as well as How to be Single and Bridesmaids, feels the best equipped to tackle such a role like Natalie, a character that of which she brings the right amount of cynicism and comedic charm to make the character quite endearing. Wilson has been known for playing up the same type of comedic acting “shtick”, but it definitely works in her favor in Isn’t It Romantic and I basically couldn’t see the role of Natalie in better hands than her. Sure, it’s really not her “defining” role of her career (so far), but Wilson makes her iteration of Natalie quite enjoyable and also relatable as the everyman (or rather everywoman) archetype character that’s thrusted into this parallel rom-com world (and must play out the story’s cliché scenarios, which definitely works in favor of the feature’s narrative plot.
Behind Wilson’s Natalie, the film also sees the cliché (almost commonplace) characters of the male romantic leads that are also central figures in romantic comedies. This is clearly represented in the movie by the characters Josh (Natalie’s BFF male co-worker) and Blake (Natalie’s business client / love interest in the alternative rom-com world), who are played by actors Adam DeVine (Pitch Perfect and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates) and Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games franchise and Independence Day: Resurgence). DeVine brings his typical goofy charming and overall bravado to the proceedings in making the somewhat “underdog” male lead role a bit more realistic in this cinematic narrative (at least what works for Isn’t It Romantic), while Hemsworth offers up a some humorous / satire combination of the aloof rich businessman that has alluring romantic admirers. Together, both DeVine and Hemsworth play to their strengths and ultimately pay off in their performances; breathing a charismatic fun into these cliché male lead characters.
Much like those two leading males, the much of the supporting cast are a garden variety of characters that are (again) customary in a generic romantic comedy, but are elevated enough by both the talents that plays them as well as the circumstance of the feature’s humorous narrative. The one definitely shines the most is the character named Donny, who is Natalie’s shady neighbor in the real world / gay sidekick BFF in the rom-com world. Played by actor Brandon Scott Jones (The Other Two and Can You Ever Forgive Me?), the character of Donny is definitely one of the more cliché characters that is found within a romantic comedy, but this iteration of a classic flamboyant gay friend to the main protagonist is still quite charming and hilarious fun to watch on-screen, especially in Jones’s performance. The other two characters Whitney (Natalie’s co-worker BFF friend in the real world / female work rival in the rom-com world) and Isabella (a super pretty yoga ambassador that becomes very “smitten” with Josh in the rom-com world), which do bolster the film’s narrative and (by association) tackle Natalie’s problem with romantic comedies. Like Jones’s Donny, both of these characters, played by actress Betty Gilpin (True Story and GLOW) and musician / actress Priyanka Chopra (Baywatch and Quantico), are commonly used stock-like characters in rom-coms, so their character builds aren’t exactly relatively new or creative, but are elevated by their respective actresses that play them. That being said, both Whitney and Isabella could’ve been easily expanded upon in the movie than what was presented in the final version. Regardless, their “collectively” inclusion in the feature is a welcomed one; offering up some classic stereotypes that are commonly in a romantic comedy endeavor.
Rounding out the cast are several minor supporting characters, including actress Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous and Shrek 2) as Natalie’s mom, actor Jay Oakerson (Louie and From Other Worlds) as Gary, and actor Tom Ellis (Lucifer and Miranda) as attractive Dr. Todd. These characters are really much a super important to the large narrative taking place, but do make a memorable presence during their scene and are at least acted well by their respective talents that play them.
Natalie hates romantic comedies, but soon finds herself trapped and starring in her very own PG-13 rom-com adventure in the film Isn’t it Romantic. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson latest feature deconstructs the classic ideas of a collective standards of a romantic comedy film and presents them in satirical way that both amusing and fun. While there are a few problems with the feature’s nuances and predictability path (as well as not expanding on certain elements), the movie still succeeds in being a perfect and entertainingly endeavor that works both as a parody satire and a self-aware romantic comedy, especially thanks to Strauss-Schulson’s direction, a sharp screenplay, a well-crafted (produced) film, and a great / solid cast. Personally, I really liked this movie. Yes, it’s a movie that’s riddled with rom-com clichés and the satire atmosphere isn’t really anything new, but it’s definitely one of the better parodies film endeavor (as well as being a straight forward romantic comedy). It is for that reason why I would definitely “highly recommend” this movie to all, especially those who love / grow up with watching romantic comedies. In the end, while it really isn’t a “game changer” for the movie subgenre, Isn’t It Romantic is truly a breezy and delightful sendup of the romantic comedy tropes (in a very fun way) as well as (by ways and means of conventional narration) never loses sight of the film’s message of love and happiness.
4.2 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: February 13th, 2019
Reviewed On: March 19th, 2019
Isn’t It Romantic is 88 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for language, some sexual material, and a brief drug reference