To prepare for the new comedy “Isn’t It Romantic” director Todd Strauss-Schulson studied 65 rom-coms day and night for two weeks. The intensive study helped him form the basis of his movie, the meta tale of a woman, played by Australian comedian Rebel Wilson, who recovers from a hit on the head to find herself trapped inside her least favourite kind of film, a romantic comedy.
The second “bonk on the head” movie of the season—following Taraji P. Henson’s “What Men Want”—sees Wilson play Natalie—“Nat,” she says, “like the bug.”—an Australian architect living in the world’s greatest rom com town New York. As a young girl she loved the movie “Pretty Woman” but became cynical about love after her mother scolded, “Life is not a fairy tale. People like us don’t get that. Take a look in the mirror doll. We’re not Julia Roberts.” Closed off and shut down she has a tough time finding love until an attempted robbery in the subway leaves to the proverbial knock on the noggin. When she wakes up she finds herself in Hallmark style romantic comedy—“It looks like somebody put a beauty filter across New York City.”—complete with a palatial apartment, a “clichéd gay sidekick,” champagne and, of course, handsome men who look her in the eye. “My life’s become a m***********g romantic comedy,” she shouts, standing in front of the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, as dancers swirl around her. “It’s like The Matrix for lonely women.”
Is she trapped forever or is a love affair the way back?
“Isn’t it Romantic” is simultaneously a satire of the films Natalie hates and one of the movies Natalie hates. Both ingenious and predictable, it is enjoyable and a little tedious. Essentially Strauss-Schulson has taken all the most predictable rom com clichés and book-ended them with some bonk-on-the-head fantasy. The machinations we’re used to are all on display but instead of poking fun the film absorbs them become a pale imitation of the thing it professes to mock.
Wilson gamely plays along. She’s funny when she’s cynical a little less so when she’s in rom com mode but either way she brings the fun. Her character’s messages of being happy with the other things in life other than a man are potent until they are blunted later on, but Wilson maintains good-humoured empowerment throughout.
The supporting cast mostly play it straight except for Liam Hemsworth—Miley’s husband, not Thor—and Betty Gilpin as Natalie’s rom com obsessed assistant. Both are rom com ready, with a twist.
I’m guessing “Isn’t it Romantic” was meant to be a comedy about romance but falls prey to the usual pitfalls of the genre.