When watching Isn’t It Romantic?, it’s hard not think of I Feel Pretty when doing so. Especially because it came out last year. Both films have a similar premise involving a woman living in NYC who lack self-respect. But after badly hitting their heads, they get a new particular outlook on life and themselves. Their outlooks are demonstrated in different ways but they still have the same idea. However, Isn’t It Romantic? executes that idea in a far better manner. While I Feel Pretty has its heart in the right place, it doesn’t provide the same amount of laughs. Also, Isn’t It Romantic? is more subversive and to answer the title’s question, it indeed is.
It’s also elevated by a genuine leading performance from Rebel Wilson as Natalie, a woman who hates romantic comedies and thinks they’re cheap fantasies. But after hitting her head to avoid a mugger, she wakes up to find that she’s living in a world that plays out like a PG-13 romantic comedy. She becomes even more flustered since she’s being forced to live every rom-com cliche she comes across. However, Wilson perfectly demonstrates her self-awareness through dry deadpan. She even showcases her capabilities as a physical comedienne, providing the film with more laughs as a result.
That being said, the supporting actors are terrific even if they aren’t as well-developed. Liam Hemsworth is perfectly cast as Blake, a hotshot billionaire who ends up being Natalie’s superficial love interest. It’s a role that plays into his devilish good looks while allowing him to let his freak flag fly and showcase his hidden knack for comedic timing. Meanwhile, Adam DeVine, who plays Natalie’s friendzoned co-worker Josh, demonstrates the established chemistry both he and Wilson had in the Pitch Perfect films. He’s not given much to do besides be the friendzoned best friend but he still leaves an impression.
Then there’s Priyanka Chopra who plays Isabella, a yoga ambassador who ends up being Josh’s love interest. She’s clearly set up to be a romantic rival for Natalie there’s no real rivalry set up until the very end. As a result, there isn’t much for her to do. Same with Betty Gilpin as Whitney, Natalie’s best friend who becomes a rival co-worker in the rom-com world. Gilpin provides some laughs as both sides of the same character yet she’s still underutilized.
Honestly, the only side actor given any sort of depth or development is Brandon Scott Jones as Donny, Natalie’s gay best friend. Jones presents Donny as the cliched gay friend who provides the typical sassy one-liners that the gay sidekick in these type of comedies gives. However, he still gives him enough to humanity so that he remains a character and not a cliche.
Pretty much every side character is a cliche: The friendzoned co-worker, the jerky boyfriend, the sassy gay sidekick, and the romantic rival. That being said, it’s likely that the idea is for them to be a cliche. Since Natalie is living in a typical romantic comedy, a part of being typical is demonstrating the usual rom-com mechanics. In an attempted satirization, it’s best to portray the cliches you’re satirizing in order to get your point across.
So, in all fairness to the screenwriters: Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman, they remain on point when it comes to deconstructing the tropes of a tired genre. Also, it is genius how they use the rom-com genre as a device for Natalie to go on a journey of self-respect. Part of her lack of self-respect is tied into the fact that women in romantic comedies don’t often look like her and her mother (Jennifer Saunders) who is introduced in the film early on hasn’t exactly made things easy for her. So, to have an enlightening genre used as a tool for Natalie’s arc is quite commendable.
Even if Isn’t It Romantic? doesn’t reinvent the romantic comedy genre despite its genius satirization, it still provides plenty of heart. Also, it boasts a committed leading performance from Rebel Wilson and allows her to not just be the scene stealer. She’s proven that she’s capable of carrying every scene she appears in and is heart and soul of a winsome film.