Morlock’s critique of Isn’t It Romantic, a 2019 satire of rom-coms starring Rebel Wilson, In One Word or Less™ …
To elaborate, this is a movie that gets it. Romantic comedies have such standardized tropes that in these meta-obsessed times, even the characters will comment on previous, tired examples in the genre. Isn’t It Romantic is a parody of those tropes, and often takes it a step further by parodying the parody. Rebel Wilson’s character knows she’s in a rom-com — specifically, and to her fucking annoyance, a PG-13 rom-com — and is well aware what that means in terms of her story arc. She fights against it the whole way.
This could have gone horribly wrong, with too cynical an attack (think Todd Solondz), reference-heavy nonmedy (like Epic Movie), or screwball joke-a-second style (Naked Gun). Rom-coms deserve such treatments, true, as do all genre films, but the screenwriters and director of Isn’t It Romantic wanted to make a fun meta-comedy and they skate perfectly on that edge. This is a film that loves its plot contrivances and its trope characters not despite of what they are, but because of them. I found myself enjoying these people as much as any character in a John Waters film.
Isn’t It Romantic has a standard rom-com plot under its satire, but I particularly love what the film lacks therefrom. For example, there are only a couple direct references to other rom-coms. We see clips from Pretty Woman and The Wedding Singer, and Rebel Wilson’s Natalie wears both iconic dresses (the red off-the-shoulder and the white one with the silly hat) from the former. Thankfully, Natalie only discusses the genre as a whole without constant, trivia-style notes. There are no lines like, “Oh look, that happened in When Harry Met Sally.”
And while rom-coms may soak themselves in product placement, there is very little of that in evidence here. No everpresent Fed Ex trucks and drop-off boxes as in Runaway Bride. No endless talk about Starbucks coffee or dining in large chain restaurants as in every Adam Sandler movie ever. When the characters end up in the typical third-act tropical getaway location, the film doesn’t blast your eyes with famous resort logos.
This is so refreshing. Ads in films will never go away, and Isn’t It Romantic has a couple (a Pantene billboard is a plot point), but imagine how cynical its heart would be if every character ordered Amstel Light by name. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson kept a light touch on these matters.
There are musical numbers in the film complete with awkward singing and dancing which is nevertheless well-choreographed and executed. Whether they are or not, every song feels like it came from another rom-com. And kudos to whoever cast the extras. I had endless fun looking at the corners of the screen and finding delightfully gawky faces who, in a number of scenes, turned out to belong to talented dancers.
All the lead actors know they’re being made fun of, and bring it. Lian Hemsworth plays an eye-rollingly douchey tool without restraint. I loved the outrageous over-the-top gay neighbor played by Brandon Scott Jones, done so far past parody that it circles around offense; it’s every flamboyant character Scott Thompson played in a Kids in the Hall sketch. Jones’ hairstyle when he first appears in the rom-com section of the movie even confused me at first, and I thought Thompson was doing a cameo.
I do feel it’s a bit sad that a woman of Rebel Wilson’s obvious talent and beauty could only star in a parody rom-com. There may be a day when a bog-standard romantic comedy could star a heavier woman (or man, or non-binary). But, maybe that’d be too boring and trope-filled to bother watching …