Picture it…a lone film critic sits inside a theater at 1:45 PM on a Saturday afternoon surrounded by elderly couples. Isn’t It Romantic (2019), directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson, begins after twenty-three minutes of trailers. Within ten minutes the critic knows he’s made a huge mistake and doesn’t believe he can suffer through 88 minutes of more Rebel Wilson nonsense. He gets up to leave, when the film shifts in direction and shows a glimmer of hope. Slowly, the critic sits back down…and is sucked into a world of romantic comedy that he just can’t escape the embrace of?! You must be thinking, “He found his soulmate!” Well…no. However, in this dramatized version of my experience with this movie, I was tempted to leave, but ended up really embracing this love letter to a genre I tend to enjoy.
Isn’t it Romantic? clicked with my taste, was a lot of fun, and just worked.
Natalie (Wilson) was told early on that girls like her don’t get happy endings, and has since become a bit jaded towards romantic comedies and all of their tropes. After being mugged and suffering a concussion, she finds her world transformed into that of a romantic comedy. She’s determined the only way out of her nightmare is to embrace its many plot contrivances and have someone fall in love with her.
The absolute best part about this movie existing is a chance at a Pitch Perfect 3 redemption. If you saw the terrible conclusion of an otherwise solid trilogy last year, you know how bad it was in every regard. One of the most disappointing things was the relationship of Wilson’s character, Fat Amy, and Adam Devine’s character Bumper. The actors had such great chemistry in both of the first films that the third one, while mostly forgettable, didn’t offer anything remotely close to closure. Pairing the two back together here was pure genius, and it is the two of them that really made me love this movie.
Devine is often relegated to smaller roles, but he’s proven time and time again that he is a relatable and loveable lead. While this is definitely Wilson’s film, it’s his character Josh who is the most endearing. I believe it’s Devine’s optimistic yet self-deprecating demeanor that really makes him click with me. He is constantly making little jokes, sometimes under his breath, and other times they are said as fact that other characters don’t seem to pick up on. It serves to make him extremely funny, and always endearing.
Wilson, on the other hand, had grown to annoy me in most of her past roles. Fat Amy taking center stage in Pitch Perfect 3 was one of my biggest complaints about the film. I’ve often attributed this to her obvious improvised comedy that tends to go on far past the punchline. Her jokes are often driven into the ground, and many of them weren’t that funny in the first place. That’s where I’ll give Strauss-Schulson the most credit; he reigned her in and made her funny again. None of her jokes go on for too long, and, while some don’t land, many are generally funny. This is definitely her best performance since Pitch Perfect.
Liam Hemsworth, Priyanka Chopra, and Betty Gilpin – my favorite of the three despite her minimal screen time. – all add something special to the film. Liam shows that he’s got some of the comedic chops that his brother Chris has demonstrated on numerous occasions. His dopey demeanor as the infatuated billionaire who was beguiled by Natalie brings a bit of joy early on. Chopra plays a Yoga Ambassador and model who ends up dating Josh in the rom-com universe. I’ve not seen her in much, but she’s definitely charming and able to bring some humor. Gilpin is Natalie’s assistant in the real world and her female work rival in the rom-com one, and gives an excellent supporting performance. There is an early montage of Natalie ripping up romantic comedies that is one of the things that kept me in my seat.
This film does an interesting thing by pointing out all the genre conventions and tropes of romantic comedies and then totally embracing them. It’s almost like, “yeah these things are stupid and some are offensive, but isn’t it okay to just allow joy and hope to wash over you for 90 minutes?” This point is further embodied by the three musical numbers that are awesomely choreographed and performed – it may only be two full numbers, but there is at least an allusion to a third one early on. One trope that is often troubling is the gay best friend character. Here is the one spot that I’m not sure the film’s pointing out the flaws with it initially justify its inclusion. Donny (Brandon Scott Jones), who is her neighbor in the real world and becomes her gay sidekick in the rom-com universe, hits the type very hard, and Natalie points out its problematic nature by saying something like “he sets gay rights back a hundred years.” It could be possible that the resolution of the character cementing home that it’s a wrong stereotype which Hollywood has gone back to time and time again justifies its inclusion.
Overall, I was pleasantly and delightfully surprised with Isn’t it Romantic? I’d been hopeful when I first saw the trailer as the premise definitely played on my tastes, but I was apprehensive because of the cast. Luckily, Wilson won me over in this film, and Devine proved to be the right choice for the co-star. Isn’t it Romantic? earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.