Welcome guest contributor Jenna Dorsi!
Isn’t It Romantic is a movie for people who enjoy romantic comedies. Specifically, those who grew up watching the films that were released in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and early 2000s. Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is a cynical and lonely architect constantly disrespected by coworkers. She hates romcoms to the chagrin of her friend and assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin), who likes to low-key watch them all day at her desk instead of working. But it wasn’t always this way. Once, Natalie was a little girl who loved watching Pretty Woman and fantasizing about the romantic life she’d lead as an adult. Then, her mother points out that would never happen for Natalie because she doesn’t have Julia Roberts’ good looks and her self-esteem has never recovered.
On her way home from work Natalie is mugged and suffers a head injury. When she awakes in the hospital she’s in a world that looks like Nancy Meyers crafted it — complete with a ridiculously handsome doctor. Soon, Natalie realizes her life has become a romantic comedy, and she must complete the typical storyline of having a gorgeous male love interest fall in love with her so she can get back home.
Isn’t It Romantic is delightful. It’s a successful parody that points out the tropes of the genre, but also embraces the visual, plot, and aural cliches in its own story to great effect. Suddenly, New York City looks pretty and doesn’t smell bad, nearly every person in Natalie’s life has become two-dimensional, and hot billionaire, Blake (Liam Hemsworth), has fallen in love with her at first sight. Familiar songs, like “A Thousand Miles” by aughties rom-com staple Vanessa Carlton and Max Steiner’s “Theme From A Summer Place’” pepper the soundtrack, as do references to past rom-coms.
There are fashion choices that evoke Pretty Woman, similar scenes that happen in Splash, orgasmic food like When Harry Met Sally, and plots that are very much like My Best Friend’s Wedding. Natalie, who idolizes Julia Roberts, becomes her after realizing it might be her best friend Josh (Adam Devine) that is her “Prince Charming,” and not Blake. Unfortunately, Josh is about to marry a supermodel in this new universe and Natalie can’t let that happen if she wants to make things right.
Director Todd Strauss-Schulson is no stranger to paying homage to a film genre. He directed the underseen slasher pic send-up, The Final GIrls in 2015. This is obviously his niche and there’s a cleverness that films like Scary Movie or Not Another Teen Movie lack. The film has much in common with 1991’s Delirious, which saw a jaded writer get hit on the head, then wake up inside his soap opera, and Enchanted which winked at the romantic tropes of Disney movies and then subverted them.
Still, Isn’t It Romantic is fresh in a lot of ways. Natalie is a plus-sized heroine. The film explicitly acknowledges how that can be limiting towards one’s career advancement and dating life in the real world. One of Natalie’s biggest concerns is not being taken seriously at work, despite her talent and ideas. In the fantastical universe, weight as an issue does not exist. She is fawned over and respected, and every man she stumbles upon is taken with her. She also gets to wear a gorgeous wardrobe of stylish clothes and evening wear. It’s extremely rare to see a heavier woman wear beautiful clothes in media.
Natalie often seems exasperated at living in such a saccharine world, but it also must have be extremely liberating. It would have been nice to see this element of a world without fat-bias explored more fully. The whole movie is charming and there are a lot of great comedic moments. There are the broader ones that are a staple of the genre but also quieter jokes that feel natural. This further adds to the film’s originality.
Isn’t It Romantic is clearly made by people who love the genre. Its satire is self-aware but not mean-spirited. It doesn’t ridicule its audience for wanting to watch rom-coms, it simply demonstrates how one can love something yet still recognizes its faults. While this is a film all ages can appreciate (especially those who are enjoying the rom-com resurgence, which began last year), Isn’t It Romantic is a very Millennial movie. It’s for the kids who watched Sleepless in Seattle on VHS, saw Legally Blonde in theaters, bought 13 Going on 30 on DVD, and still watch all of the above and more on Netflix throughout the year. Not only will Isn’t It Romantic satiate these older fans, it will help introduce younger audiences to classics of the genre, while also becoming one itself.
Jenna Dorsi is a freelance writer and pop culture obsessive. Her work has appeared on Teen Vogue, The Mary Sue, Film School Rejects, and Daytime Confidential.