Oh, rom-coms. Is there a genre so many feel so guilty about loving? As Carrie Bradshaw put it, we want that “ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other-love.” Wanting love is a pretty universal thing, but the problem with romantic comedies is how they often depict the quest for it, particularly to the women they’re almost universally marketed to. And for those who don’t seem to fit into the beautifully presented picture these films often paint, it can be brutal. But much like westerns, the problematic aspects of the genre have in no way prevented rom-coms making a comeback. Because love, like violence, will always find an audience hungry for it.
Isn’t It Romantic is well aware of these problems, as is Natalie (Rebel Wilson), the reluctant heroine of the story. She gets the message about how unworthy she is early, while she’s watching Julia Roberts charm Richard Gere and get a high class makeover in Pretty Woman. She also has her mother to helpfully remind her how much neither of them would be considered worthy enough to make a movie about.
Now 25 years later, Natalie, an ambitious architect living in New York (because where else?) has absorbed this message so well that she lets people at her job treat her like a secretary, can’t get the bosses to listen to any of her ideas, and doesn’t seem to realize her coworker Josh (Adam Devine of Workaholics) has been trying to get her attention for a while. She’s high enough on the food chain to have her own assistant, Whitney (Betty Gilpin), whose friendship is the one bright spot of her professional life. Even if Whitney mostly spends the day watching the romantic comedies Natalie openly despises.
But she has to get with the program after she’s hit on the head and wakes up to find her life has become a romantic comedy. New York doesn’t smell weird anymore, her apartment has been transformed into a Sex in the City type abode, with a closet that would make Carrie Bradshaw green with envy, and she spends a lot of her time tripping and being rescued by handsome men. Her place of employment is also a shiny, fashionable, sunlit paradise, and her assistant is now a coworker who’s devoted to her destruction.
“This is like the Matrix for lonely women!” Natalie moans. Thankfully, Josh is the one thing that seems the same, and with his help she decides to play along with the conventions in the hopes of getting to her happy ending and getting back to reality. It is much easier though, when you have a ripped Hemsworth brother playing one of your love interests. Liam Hemsworth is still primarily known as Gale from The Hunger Games movies, but Isn’t It Romantic proves he has staying power in comedy with that winning combination of abs and comic chops.
By the film’s ending, Isn’t It Romantic seems much less in subverting the tropes it’s spent most of the film poking fun at than leaning into them, especially when Natalie realizes that she’s in love with Josh, who is inexplicably hooking up with, then quickly gets engaged to, yoga ambassador Isabella (Priyanka Chopra). Rebel Wilson is a big part of why this mostly works, with her reliable comedic talents and winning blend of heart and cynicism. The real secret to its success is the script, which is written entirely by women. They are able to smartly address that feeling of invisibility Natalie and others experience if they deviate from the strict rules governing how much space they should take up. Rebel Wilson’s handling of her status as a plus-sized lead has left much to be desired, but it’s a credit to the writers that Natalie isn’t defined by her weight as much so much as she’s let her weight define her, with her loneliness being the direct result.
Much like the rom-coms Isn’t It Romantic skewers and celebrates, it succeeds because it recognizes we’re all suckers for sincerity, even as it takes pains to update message for a more empowering one that cynics and romantics alike can embrace. We all want to see someone fall in love, and put everything on the line for it. Women especially want to be a the center of a narrative that takes them and their concerns seriously, and for all the genre’s faults, it does exactly that, which is probably why most aren’t taken as seriously as other films marketed towards male audiences. Isn’t It Romantic isn’t exactly here to say something new, even if it has good points about how negative stereotypes about women and gay people can still abound in material supposedly made for them. What it’s here to do is give us a more satisfying sugar high, which is mostly does.