I don’t normally go out of my way to watch romantic comedies, but Isn’t It Romantic caught my attention with its simple yet solid premise: a woman who doesn’t like romantic comedies wakes up to find herself in a romantic comedy and is the only one who realizes it. It reminded me of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Last Action Hero where a boy enters an action-movie world where characters don’t realize they’re in an action-movie world. So I was a little curious to see how a romantic comedy take on that idea would play out. Plus it’s got Australian actress Rebel Wilson in the lead, so I felt a patriotic duty to see it being an Australian myself. I should of stayed at home.
Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson (The Final Girls, Zombies and Cheerleaders), Isn’t It Romantic introduces us to Natalie (Alex Kis) when she is 12 years-old, living in Australia, watching the film Pretty Woman. Natalie is enjoying the Julia Roberts classic until Natalie’s Mum (Jennifer Saunders – with a great Aussie accent by the way) ruins the experience for her by laying on the truth: women such as herself and Natalie never get the happy ending portrayed in romantic comedies, only beautiful women like Julia Roberts do. This sets a mindset for Natalie that negatively affects her well into adulthood.
Flash-forward 25 years, Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is now an architect in New York whose life leaves a lot to be desired. She lives in a small apartment with a dog that ignores her and works in a busy office space where she’s a pushover. Her assistant and friend Whitney (Betty Gilpin) would rather watch romantic comedies at her work desk instead of doing any work and Natalie is so jaded about dating that she can’t see the romantic interest from her friend Josh (Adam Devine), whose advances go unnoticed. A meeting with the company’s handsome new billionaire client, Blake (Liam Hemsworth), doesn’t go according to plan and to top things off, Natalie is mugged in a subway where she hits her head and is knocked unconscious.
Waking up in a very nice hospital, Natalie soon discovers that she’s no longer in her normal life of woe and misery. She is now in a situation much worse – in a world that follows all the cliches of a romantic comedy and she must figure out how to play along so that she can escape the “perfect life” she’s trapped in. With the help of her flamboyantly gay sidekick Donny (Brandon Scott Jones), she must do this while living in a perfect home, working in an almost perfect work environment (that now comes with an arch enemy) and all the while dating an Australian version of Blake, the hunky billionaire. What a life!
For the most part, the acting is pretty awful. Rebel Wilson is a great support actress for comedy where she’s able to come in at the right moment and be funny…and then disappear to let someone else carry the film. However, Isn’t It Romantic demonstrates that she doesn’t make a great leading lady and I found myself receding into my cinema chair with scene after scene of her bumbling around with her equally cringeworthy co-star, Adam Devine. There were a few times where I genuinely laughed at the comedy Rebel was putting out, but those were few and far between. While the story revolves around her character being out of place, Rebel herself came across as being out of place and didn’t own the screen like I would expect from actresses like Amy Schumer or Anne Hathaway.
Adam Devine looked more the part on screen than Rebel, but he wasn’t much better. At times I felt like I was watching a poor imitation of Jim Carrey and there were moments I was left wondering to myself “what is happening right now?” I think he’s supposed to come across as energetic and quirky, but for me he was just bizarre and annoying and the best parts are when he’s not on the screen.
Surprisingly, the person I found most funny was Liam Hemsworth, who manages to salvage some of the scenes he appears in by blending perfectly into the unnatural world Natalie finds herself in. He’s so “over-the-top-perfect” with ridiculous moments he really encapsulates the unreal-ness of the generic “dream guy” portrayed in romantic comedies. As an actual Australian I thought he was putting on the accent a bit much, however I can forgive this as he really has some great moments that remind us how good a story this really is (or might have been).
What really stands out most is the whole “romantic comedy universe” created by director Todd Strauss-Schulson. He’s done a fantastic job of creating a “perfect” version of New York. The redesign of the streets and shops, along with wonderful wardrobe for each of the characters, really transports us to a colorful world opposite to the New York we’re so familiar with and helps to add another layer to the comedy.
Despite the poor performances of the lead actors, Todd manages to squeeze out some really great moments that’ll put a smile on your face, like the karaoke scene where Natalie is trying to win the heart and attention of Josh who’s getting married to Isabella (Priyanka Chopra), the gorgeous and rich “Yoga Ambassador”. This scene breaks into choreographed song and dance in a public bar and quickly becomes one of the film’s highlights. Clever editing – especially with well timed love songs – really add to the comedic value of the story and in parts help to elevate average moments into memorable ones.
I think there will be audiences who will enjoy Isn’t It Romantic because it has everything they’d expect a film in this genre to have, and while this wasn’t enough to entertain myself, others will likely get a lot of laughs from it. Awful acting from the miscast leads never quite sell an otherwise great premise, one that I really wanted to see handled correctly. Who knew Liam Hemsworth could be so funny (and who could have guessed Rebel Wilson could be so unfunny)? Seems like a stalemate for Australian comedians. But I did enjoy watching a romantic comedy poke fun at the stale tropes of the genre while at the same time adhering to them, I just wish these ideas were in a better movie.