Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Romantic comedies often get criticized for falling into formulas and tropes, leading most films in the genre to follow familiar patterns. For some, the reliability of the romantic comedy formula is part of the genre's charm, but for others, it's an indication of a lack of creativity. "Isn't It Romantic" may then be the perfect romantic comedy for both audiences, as it is at its heart another romantic comedy, but it is one that calls out the tired tropes for what they are.
Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is an architect living in New York City, and while she grew up loving romantic comedies, she came to realize that life never works out that way. She lives in a tiny cramped apartment, she's overlooked by her co-workers with the exception of her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin), and her best friend Josh (Adam Devine). Both of her friends are devotees of the romantic comedy, but Natalie will have none of it.
At least, until a mugging gone haywire results in Natalie getting hit on the head and waking up inside of a re-imagined world that runs on the rules of the romantic comedy. Her neighbor has become her overly-effeminate gay best friend. She and Whitney have become work rivals (because women can't be friends in those movies) and client Blake (Liam Hemsworth) is instantly into her.
Natalie figures that her only way out of this romantic comedy universe is to use the rules of the genre to get to the end of the movie. So what we get is a meta-commentary on the romantic comedy as a genre. Jokes focus on things like how the gay best friend never seems to have an actual job, thus making him available to pop into the story literally everywhere to offer wisdom to our Natalie. Or how Natalie is somehow able to keep her job, even though she seems to spend all her time doing anything but that.
Another key and hilarious aspect of the story is that, like all rom-coms, Natalie's world is rated PG-13 so repeated attempts to drop an F-bomb of exasperation are foiled, as are attempts to have any actual sex.
Romantic movies live and die by their leads, and while most romantic comedies have two, the first place that "Isn't It Romantic" tries to change things up is that it really only has one. The focus here is on Rebel Wilson and while her relationships are an important part of the story, none of the potential suitors ever rises to the level of a co-lead. Luckily, Wilson is more than capable of handling the film by herself. I can be very hit and miss when it comes to Wilson's roles. I think she can be quite funny, and her joke delivery is solid, but I could do without most of the fat jokes.
Luckily, the humor at the expense of Wilson is at a minimum and "Isn't It Romantic" lets her just be funny and also smart. While the idea of Rebel Wilson leading a romantic comedy is part of the joke premise, the film itself never paints the idea as anything but believable.
Of course, when your movie is full of romantic comedy tropes, even when the goal is to poke fun at them, you're still just making a romantic comedy full of tropes. "Isn't it Romantic" wants to be both a send-up and an homage to the genre, and while it does an admirable job, it ultimately doesn't commit to either concept enough. Thus, the ending especially gets a little muddy. The message of the film is a good one and one worthy of the film committing to it a bit more.
That's not to say that the straight rom-com elements to the story aren't enjoyable as far as they go. The tropes exist because they work, and if you tend to enjoy them, you'll tend to enjoy "Isn't It Romantic."
The rom-com opening at Valentine's Day is a concept as old as the genre itself, and thus "Isn't It Romantic" will likely get a lot of interest on opening weekend for that reason alone. Those that do give the film a shot will get exactly what they were hoping for, as it is a light and fun romantic movie with just enough to make it unique to keep your attention, though it's hard to imagine you'll be breaking out the Blu-ray by next Valentine's Day.