It’s an odd time to do a send-up of romantic comedies. The genre is out of fashion—in fact, I’m racking my brain to think of the last traditional rom-com to appear in movie theaters. (Crazy Rich Asians comes close, although it’s really more of a rollicking ensemble piece; the wonderful The Big Sick is definitely a rom-com, but hardly a traditional one.) For the most part, the rom-com genre has landed on TV (think Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Set It Up or even the delightful TV Land sitcom Younger.)
It’s no wonder then, that when Isn’t It Romantic wants to cite the rom-coms that our jaded, unlucky-in-love heroine (Rebel Wilson) has had it up to here with, they have to dip into the wayback machine: Pretty Woman, Sweet Home Alabama, Notting Hill, The Wedding Singer.
In the office where Wilson’s Natalie works as a junior architect, she rattles off all the things she hates about rom-coms: The cliched gay bestie; the makeover montages; the way it pits women against each other in the workplace; the way the heroine’s clumsiness is considered endearing instead of annoying; the slow-motion runs at the end to catch a plane or break up a wedding.
Then she gets mugged in the subway, knocks her head on a pole, and wakes up in a rom-com herself. New York is suddenly shiny and clean and smells of lavender. Her apartment is twice its size and filled with great furniture and designer shoes. She has that gay bestie (Brandon Scott Jones), who is only around to give “you go, girl!" affirmations and, for the most part, has no inner life of his own. There are spontaneous dance numbers.
At work, her old assistant and best friend Whitney (Betty Gilpin) is suddenly a competitive power-bitch gunning for Natalie’s job. Her doting guy pal Josh (Adam Devine) is still sweet on her, but now he’s dating a supermodel and “yoga ambassador” (“That’s not a thing,” mutters Natalie), played by Priyanka Chopra. And a hunky billionaire hotel owner, Blake (Liam Hemsworth), thinks Natalie is “beguiling.”
The whole film goes down smoothly, thanks to a cute (if rarely laugh-out-loud) script and a winning performance by Rebel Wilson, who effortlessly displays her movie star chops. Wilson has always been funny when she’s done gross-out humor, exaggerated come hithers, and pratfalls, but she’s relatively dialed down here—and still, well, beguiling. Hemsworth is great as the smooth-talking cad, proving that both the Hemsworth boys have comedic chops to go along with their preternatural good looks (damn them!). And truth be told, this is the first time I’ve actually liked Adam Devine, probably because he’s playing a sweetheart instead of his usual smarmy frat boy type.
So yeah, Isn’t It Romantic is unnecessary but it is diverting all the same and even has some wise things to say about regressive rom-com tropes. (Hint: The person who really completes you was staring back at you in the mirror all along.)