Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson
Starring Rebel Wilson, Liam Hemsworth, Adam Devine
For a movie that’s supposed to be a send-up of romantic comedies, Isn’t It Romantic is suspiciously short on montages…except for one: As the first act transitions into the second, disgruntled New York architect Natalie (Rebel Wilson) goes off on her office best friend Whitney (Betty Gilpin) about all the clichés that make her hate romantic comedies. It’s a clever way for Isn’t It Romantic to signal which tropes it will be skewering over the next hour.
It’s about time a putative romantic comedy administered the Scream treatment on its own genre; after all, everyone from indie filmmakers (David Wain’s They Came Together) to creepy stalker thrillers (You) have taken their own potshots. In Isn’t It Romantic, Natalie (Wilson) is so used to her diminished New York existence that when she bonks her head during a mugging, she freaks out after waking up to find herself trapped in a rom-com world: Her dingy outer boroughs apartment has been remodeled into a gorgeous penthouse, her indifferent neighbor has transformed into a gay best friend (Brandon Scott Jones, a tad too much), and her love life has suddenly become way too busy. Mousy, invisible Natalie, you see, has become the object of adoration of her hunky client Blake (Liam Hemsworth, whose Aussie accent is the subject of one throwaway joke) even as she discovers burgeoning feelings for her taken-for-granted best friend Josh (Adam Devine, pleasingly tamping down his manic gimmickry).
The casting of Devine might tag Isn’t It Romantic as a nominal sequel to Pitch Perfect, the pop cultural milestone where he and Rebel Wilson first created sparks (Fat Amy and Bumper Redux?), but their dynamic is entirely different here—and it’s an indicator of what kind of spoof Isn’t It Romantic tries to be. Wilson and Devine’s interactions are sweet, believable, and—because of their prior filmography—practically pre-sold, just as Isn’t It Romantic is counting on its audience to know what clichés it’s poking fun at. It’s also obvious that Isn’t It Romantic has a deep love for what it’s spoofing, which is explained by the fact that screenwriter Erin Cardillo (who cut her teeth writing episodes for Criminal Minds) gets prodigious help from veterans Dana Fox (How to Be Single) and Katie Silberman (Set It Up).
If only director Todd Strauss-Schulson had gotten the mixture of sour and sweet promised by his screenwriters’ dynamic. His direction feels oddly wooden, pretty straightforward and lacking any zing—except for one brilliantly staged and edited karaoke sequence where Wilson belts out a rousing version of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”. Even though Isn’t It Romantic ultimately gives Wilson nothing meatier than a self-love message to sink her teeth into, the Aussie’s dexterous handling of that sequence is proof positive of why she deserves the love of every romantic-comedy fan out there.
Isn’t It Romantic is now streaming on Netflix
Photographs from Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.