Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Stars: Rebel Wilson, Liam Hemsworth, Priyanka Chopra
Having already lovingly lampooned the slasher movie with The Final Girls, Todd Strauss-Schulson now takes similar aim at the rom-com with Isn’t It Romantic, which has dropped suddenly onto Netflix. With Rebel Wilson starring, this seems a little surprising to have bypassed multiplexes, but that’s just the world we’re living in nowadays. Still, it seems set to provide the streaming service another easily digested hit (however the barometer of success is measured in this arena).
Natalie (Wilson) is a New York architect who hates romantic comedies. Her mother taught her that the movies lie to women about what they can reasonably expect from life and love. One day she is mugged on a subway station platform by a man she assumed was hitting on her. In the scuffle she bangs her head. She wakes up in bizarroworld, hair and make-up done to a T; an alternate reality which runs by the rules of the good ol’ fashioned rom-com. Suddenly the city looks like The Good Place from The Good Place, Liam Hemsworth’s obnoxious client is more generous and attentive, and pop song montages are threatening to flourish at any second.
It’s a hair’s breadth away from the ‘sucked into the movie’ plotline of The Final Girls, but it allows Strauss-Schulson to continue pursuing this fun course in meta deconstruction (check out the lost-and-found clothes Natalie is given by the hospital as she makes her quick escape and the dimensional makeover that’s happened at her apartment). The magical evolution that takes place at her office is particularly enjoyable, riffing on the fantasy work environments of films like Friends With Benefits. Natalie confides in her colleague Josh (former Pitch Perfect co-star Adam Devine) and together they venture out into Strauss-Schulson’s ironic, Technicolor world.
Wilson’s a great choice here, and her incredulous delivery nails the tone of the piece. She’s shown her quality in supporting roles in the past and carries the lead with magnetic confidence. Not that her character is particularly blessed in that regard. Natalie is written as filled with self-doubt, and she almost ceaselessly vocalises her sense of low self-esteem. It’s a touch one note, bluntly telegraphing the token wholesome message and set of realisations to come, but the Get Out Of Jail Free card in this scenario for Strauss-Schulson (and Wilson) is that this laziness can be written off as just another trope in the firing line.
Romantic comedies do get a raw deal, in a sense linking them to slasher movies; another subgenre that critics hurry to turn their noses up at. Strauss-Schulson appears to be constructing a series of parodies that double as celebrations and defenses for these corners of popcorn cinema. Rom-coms may not be high art, but they fulfill a function that people appreciate. They’re our comfort films. Our frosted desserts. Providing glossy escapism isn’t without merit. Isn’t It Romantic acknowledges this while simultaneously living in its world. Like all indulgences, it both has its cake and eats it. And that’s fine. They Came Together may have tapped this vein with a sharper wit, but Strauss-Schulson’s movie is fun and (knowingly) inoffensive.