Isn't It Romantic
Parody is reserved for only the most dearly celebrated cultural touchstones. No rom-com cliché is left un-mocked in the peculiarly charming Isn’t It Romantic.
The film itself is quite simple and clever. Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is living her totally normal life as an architect in New York City. She works with her closest friends, Whitney (Betty Gilpin) and Josh (Adam Devine). Nothing out of the ordinary there. One day, after Whitney pushes Natalie to be a little more open to the possibility of love and to Whitney’s beloved rom-coms, Natalie is bonked on the head during a subway mugging. She wakes up in the hospital the next day, but everything is a bit off. Her hair and makeup are perfect, the doctor is gorgeous, and New York smells pleasant. Oh my, she’s in a romantic comedy! No longer invisible to handsome men, Natalie is unsettled with this new attention at first. Soon enough, she settles into the niceties of having a well-groomed dog and a comically hilarious (and problematic) gay neighbor (Brandon Scott Jones). Of course, Natalie has also brought all of her own baggage with her and must work through all that if she’s expected to find love.
Often the best art direction in a film blends seamlessly into the story and the characters, but given the stark contrast between Natalie’s two realities, it should be noted exactly how much heavy lifting the art direction in Isn’t It Romantic does. Keep an eye out, not just for set dressing and costuming, but for street signs, storefronts, and every last teeny detail on screen to be screaming at you which world Natalie is in. A lot has been altered to support the experience of one world or another, and it’s impressive to see how exhaustive the filmmakers were.
Isn’t It Romantic also slips in as many references to other canonical romantic comedies from the past. Quotes as well as some visual cues are slipped into many scenes as easter eggs for the more romantically-inclined fans. Spotting them can either be eye-rolling or a little loving touch, depending on how you feel about rom-coms.
Director Todd Strauss-Schulson (A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas) has deftly created a film that targets these extreme ends of romantic comedy fandom. Isn’t It Romantic speaks directly to the romantic curmudgeon (like myself) by having the characters address the absurdity of the genre, but then also wins over fans of the genre by itself eventually turning into an earnest romantic comedy. Just like satirical, self-aware horror comedies such as Tucker and Dale vs Evil, You Might Be the Killer, and Strauss-Schulson’s own The Final Girls, Isn’t It Romantic starts as a joke, but then inhabits the very genre it’s ribbing.
This shift from one mode to the next allows Isn’t It Romantic to get as saccharine as it can, while feigning satire to avoid alienating those who hate that sort of thing. We can have the random dance sequence as Natalie tries to serenade her love, while also being aware of how ridiculous it all is. In other words, Isn’t It Romantic gets to have it both ways.
Poking fun at romantic comedies may be taking on an easy target, but Isn’t It Romantic finds a way to do it with kindness and some actual humor.