It’s hard to parody a genre already given its last rites.
Hollywood unofficially gave up on rom-coms a while ago, having failed to find a formula to satisfy our cravings. Last year’s smash hit “Crazy Rich Asians” proved a rare, and wondrous exception.
We kept waiting for the next Hanks and Ryan to show up. Instead, we got Hudson and McConaughey, Aniston and Butler.
So along comes “Isn’t It Romantic,” and we’re forced to remember what made the genre tick in the first place. The satire hits a few bulls eyes, but the comedy ends up aping its intended target all too closely.
Rebel Wilson stars as Natalie, a worker drone who spends her time excoriating romantic comedies. They’re filled with unrealistic scenarios, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool, she cries.
One head bonk later, and Natalie finds herself living in her own romantic comedy. Her city’s grime is gone. Every other man falls at her feet. And her neighbor transforms into an over-the-top GBF (gay best friend).
It’s all funny … for a spell. Only the funny bits are all in the trailer. Saved you $10-plus dollars!
There’s a few more tweaks here, but “Isn’t It Romantic” adheres too closely to its own formula. For starters, Natalie’s true love interest is telegraphed so early it’s almost funny (Can someone give Adam Devine a good film role … stat?).
Wouldn’t it be better to rise above the rom-com clichés instead?
— The View (@TheView) February 13, 2019
Another misfire? Men start falling head over heels for Natalie. Now, that’s not a knock against Wilson, who deserves a starring role after stealing so many scenes over the past decade. It’s just that rom-coms don’t work that way.
Yes, the love interest catches the leading lady’s eye. But it’s often a struggle, part of the mating dance between Boy and Girl.
It’s a small miscue, but one that shows the screenwriters aren’t fully engaged in the parody business.
The film’s running gags exhaust themselves mid-movie, too. The exception? Brandon Scott Jones kills it as the exuberantly gay neighbor. Naturally, Natalie rolls her eyes at his politically incorrect excess, but Jones brings the laughs consistently.
“Isn’t It Romantic” also scores during an unexpected musical number. It’s silly and packed with laughs, and visually it puts the film on another level.
It moves the story along, too.
Then, when the number wraps, we’re back to mediocrity.
The film, as is the case so often these days, is split between “funny” and “empowering.” Wilson’s character doesn’t believe in herself, one reason she distrusts rom-coms with such passion. It also makes her romance with her Aussie beau (Liam Hemsworth, 1/4th as funny as brother Chris) another example of her stinging self-doubt.
A better movie could play with all of these tropes. “Isn’t It Romantic” sticks to surface-level observations. With this target rich environment, that’s simply not enough.
The film ends with a tacked-on musical number, the kind meant to drag the film’s running time to the 90-minute mark. With so much material to mock, that’s inexcusable.
HiT or Miss: “Isn’t It Romantic” isn’t sharp enough to make its satire sting.