Simultaneously satirizing and embracing the romantic-comedy tropes that Hollywood has exhausted after years of strip-mining, Isn’t It Romantic succeeds with a nod and a wink.
Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson with the same breezy, cheerful self-awareness displayed in his previous features, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011) and The Final Girls (2015), the filmmaker adroitly handles a welcome uptick in the quality of his source material. Credited to Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox and Katie Silberman, the screenplay brings to life common stereotypes that have long passed their sell-by date and then mocks them mercilessly before bidding ‘good riddance’ to them all.
Rebel Wilson stars as Natalie, who grew up with romantic stars in her eyes before awakening to the stodgy realities of her life. A fledgling architect in New York City, she lacks the self-confidence to assert herself, which affects her in the workplace and in her love life. Her co-workers and best friends Whitney (Betty Gilpin) and Josh (Adam Devine) must each spend time daily to kindly reassure her of her true value.
After a business presentation to new client Blake (Liam Hemsworth) does not go well, Natalie becomes even more dispirited. On cue, she knocks herself out during an attempted mugging and wakes up in a romantic comedy.
Natalie, it should be noted, takes a while she realize that she is now existing in a world of fantasy come to life. It’s a dream in which New York City is sparkling clean, everyone is beautiful, and bouncy pop songs emerge from nowhere, prompting strangers to begin dancing elaborately choreographed routines.
Her tiny apartment in Queens has been transformed into an unbelievably spacious, production-designed thing of beauty, and her somewhat ragged neighbor Donny (Brandon Scott Jones) begins acting like the most offensively-stereotyped gay person in existence, mysteriously popping up whenever and wherever needed for plot purposes. The latter characterization is freely acknowledged and ridiculed multiple times in the film.
Running just 88 minutes, including credits, Isn’t It Romantic gallops forward at a gainly pace, filled with a plethora of jokes and an abundance of visual gags. Its modesty is a reflection of its concise storytelling and contributes mightily to its charm. Credit should be extended to the director and veteran editor Andrew Marcus on this point especially. Several dance sequences of varying lengths also bolster the narrative.
The cast, not all known for their comic talents, are up to the challenge of making sure their characters are not taken too seriously, while grounding them in the reality of the film, as fantastical as it is. All these factors, working together, make it easier to get caught up in the spirit that is obviously intended.
Isn’t It Romantic demonstrates that, sometimes, joyful abandonment is the best answer to life’s most puzzling questions.
The film is now playing at theaters throughout Dallas.