The romantic comedy genre gets a lot of hate for playing into tropes and repeating itself over and over again. The thing is, it’s been around so long now that making fun of those tropes and subverting them has become part of the genre in and of itself. While standard rom-com fair still hits us left and right, the best of the best are the ones that actually play with the format and still deliver something fresh. Think of Crazy Rich Asians, The Big Sick, and Bridesmaids. These all fall into the genre but do something more, and they’re all the rom-coms we remember. The genre has evolved.
Isn’t It Romantic doesn’t seem to get this. Its set up is designed to make fun of the classic tropes and cliches of the romantic comedy but romantic comedies themselves have been doing that for the past decade anyway. If the film was actually funny one could call its attempt to mock the genre revelatory — if one lived ten years ago. Right now, though, the film feels like that guy who keeps bringing up a funny moment that happened three weeks ago when all the humor has clearly drifted away.
Isn’t It Romantic
Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Release Date: February 13, 2019
The biggest irony about Isn’t It Romantic (Shouldn’t there be a question mark at the end?) is that for a movie making fun of the unoriginality of romantic comedies it is relentlessly unoriginal. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but a romantically unlucky woman hits her head causing either a dream or a drastic change in self that teaches her to have self-confidence and that what she was really looking for was always inside. You have because I Feel Pretty came out last year and a host of other films with this plot released within the last four years. The big difference here is that the film firmly plants itself into the parody realm by going full out dream sequence and yet it never actually abandons the genre it’s trying to make fun of.
In this case, the story revolves around Natalie (Rebel Wilson), an architect who designs garages (her big idea is to make them pretty) and thinks no guys like her despite Josh (Adam Devine), her bumbling co-worker, blatantly asking her out and staring at her a lot. She fumbles her way through a presentation with Blake (Liam Hemsworth) before hitting her head during a mugging and waking up in a dream world where every romantic comedy trope has come true. Her stumbling suddenly becomes adorable. There are cupcake stores and coffee shops on every New York street corner. She has a fabulously gay best friend who does nothing but help her out (played wonderfully by Brandon Scott Jones), and Blake is now romantically interested in her.
I will, actually, give director Todd Strauss-Schulson a little credit before tearing the rest of the movie apart. He fights against a terrible screenplay pretty hard, delivering some knowing winks to rom-com direction that are pretty funny. There are multiple and repetitive establishing shots of people driving over bridges. There are background details like flower shops being everywhere and wedding rings being on street signs. He floats his camera backward slowly during kisses revealing comically dramatic shots. If not for him the movie would have no charm, but his not-so-subtle parody direction actually lands a few laughs for those who are paying attention. Until, of course, the joke wears thin because it is the only joke the movie has.
Isn’t It Romantic doesn’t really do anything with its premise at all. The majority of the jokes are less funny and more just pointing out tropes. Think of Family Guy‘s humor where often the gag is simply doing something and saying it exists, except the folks at Family Guy are more skilled at it. At first, the blatant call-outs can be humorous but by the end of the movie it’s just redundant. Now we’re running in slow motion because movies do that at the end. Isn’t that funny!? There’s nothing clever or challenging about the delivery, especially when the majority of these tropes have been ditched by every good romantic comedy that’s landed in recent years. Rom-coms literally make fun of this stuff themselves, they don’t’ need a parody to do it.
Then again, the movie never fully commits to parody. Despite routinely badgering the audience about how unbelievable all romantic comedies are and telling us stuff doesn’t happen that way, the film actually falls into each and every trope imaginable. In one scene they mock the gay best friend trope and then in the next they have an actual heart-to-heart with said gay best friend in which he plays directly into those tropes. In the end, the movie says nothing about anything, it’s jokes are simply there to make references to terrible cliches that aren’t really cliches anymore. The movie even ends in a big, out of place musical number despite the dream being over.
None of this really falls on the cast, who are all remarkably charming throughout. Wilson can definitely lead a film she just needs a better film to lead and…
Wait a minute…
Out of place musical number…
Scrap everything I just said. This isn’t a poorly executed romantic comedy parody. It’s a dark comedy about the last thoughts of a depressingly lonely woman’s life. Natalie never wakes up! That’s why there’s a totally out of place dance number at the end of the movie. That part is a dream too. A low-paid, unloved, struggling New Yorker who can’t get her life together dies while being mugged in the subway and her last moments of life are spent in a romantic comedy where all the tropes and expectations about love society has shoved into her head finally come true. In the real world, no one cares or really recognizes her loss so the film simply cuts to the credits once the dance number is over. It’s all in the last seconds of her lonely life that she gets to love herself and then she’s dead; the 90 minutes we spent with her nothing more than random synapsis firing in her slowing dying brain as her bleeding skull lies on the dirty floor of a subway station with disinterested people walking by and a tired, overworked police officer covering her with a sheet as she is completely forgotten by the world.
Isn’t it romantic, indeed.