‘Isn’t It Romantic’ models true romance by needing Viagra after midway point

Man talks to an unpictured person and a woman looks at him in shock.
New Line Cinema /Courtesy

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Grade: 2.0/5.0

“The Rom-Com Is Making a Comeback,” Time magazine dubiously hailed last August. At the time, the claim rang true — “Crazy Rich Asians” and “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” were smashing successes, providing both representation and original stories within a genre dominated by whiteness and cliches. Enter 2019’s “Isn’t It Romantic,” a rom-com parody film aiming to lovingly skewer the ridiculous aspects of the genre but lacking the follow-through for its own critiques.

The basic conceit appears funny enough: A woman who hates rom-coms, Natalie (Rebel Wilson, finally in the spotlight long after the pitch stopped being perfect), bumps her head and wakes up in a rom-com of her own. New York is suddenly pastel-colored, birds fly in heart formations and the opening notes of Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” play humorously ad nauseam.

The comedic momentum of “Isn’t It Romantic” experiences its honeymoon phase as Natalie enters the rom-com, and then it abruptly dies once she’s embraced the ridiculousness of her situation. It’s as though the screenwriters, upon coming up with the premise, collectively shrugged and said, “And… yeah.” The film demonstrates that it knows all the mistakes and uncouth aspects of the genre, but its satire of these items accomplishes next to nothing because it makes no effort to remedy these faults.

This leaves the audience with not one, but two gratuitous musical sequences, largely unoriginal twists and low, confusing stakes. But that’s just to say, plot aside, it’s pretty hard to watch this film without a plastered-on smile nevertheless, the raison d’être for the rom-com genre anyway. Wilson is charming throughout, though her co-stars’ characters are unilaterally two-dimensional; her best friend who’s hopelessly in love with her (Adam Devine) hints at his crush with aggravating transparency too earnest to be a caricature.

There’s something unsettling about a film hailing itself as oh-so-aware of the tired tropes of the rom-com genre without thoroughly addressing how white the genre’s films tend to be. This oversight is particularly glaring given the overwhelmingly white cast of “Isn’t It Romantic.” As the only person of color in the main cast, Priyanka Chopra as Isabella is given brutally little material to work with, her character described as simply beautiful and rich.

All the more, the audience is supposedly laughing at how rom-coms portray offensive gay best friend caricatures, but it seems directed to laugh at the stereotypical gay man (Brandon Scott Jones) as he talks about shopping and astrology. Natalie calls out the rom-com requirement of unnecessary female competition, and then she fights with Isabella over a boy while facing no real criticism from the narrative.

 

“Girls like us don’t get that,” Natalie’s mom (Jennifer Saunders) tells a 12-year-old Natalie (Alexandra Kis) in the opening scene as they watch “Pretty Woman.” Plus-sized representation is not to be diminished and is deeply needed in Hollywood. But when coupled with Wilson’s incorrect claim that she is the first plus-sized rom-com lead (egregiously overlooking one of the best rom-coms of all time, Queen Latifah’s “Last Holiday,” among several other works), the film’s one real challenge to the pitfalls of rom-coms overlooks the larger strides already made in the genre.

“Isn’t It Romantic” doesn’t try to provide solutions to the faults it raises, busying itself instead with attempting to both mock the genre and provide a romantic ending for its plus-size leading lady, not wanting to problematize its representation. This, unfortunately, results in a cookie-cutter second half lacking in both romance and comedy. With so much attention given to the problems of the genre, one would have hoped that the film would attempt to fix some of the issues it highlights, rather than simply distancing itself through half-assed parody.

Instead, like a demotivated lover, the film reads as an ironic love letter to rom-coms the way they are, rather than the way they could be. Now, isn’t that romantic?

‘Isn’t It Romantic’ is now playing at UA Berkeley 7.

Contact Caroline Smith at [email protected].