Post-romantic comedies have been a thing for the past decade or two now. Its best examples are movies that are both romantic and comedic. But sadly, they feel nothing like the romantic comedies we know and love. Isn’t It Romantic tries its hardest to do that by showing characters who earnestly love the genre. One of those fans is a younger version of Natalie, our Australian protagonist. She’s a rom-com fan until her mother (Jennifer Saunders) snaps her into reality. The mother dog whistles, telling Natalie that happy endings aren’t for ‘women like them’. And when Natalie grows up (Rebel Wilson), she agrees.
Natalie has a living situation that almost seems like it belongs in a romantic comedy. She’s an architect living in New York, but that’s about it. She describes her apartment as well as the other things in her life as ‘shit’. And she uses examples from her life and from the movies in arguments about the genre. Well, they’re more like rants that she directs towards her assistant and best friend Whitney (Betty Gilpin). She argues that they would hate each other in the rom-com version of their lives. For someone who hates the genre, she sure knows a lot about them.
These conversations make Isn’t It Romantic‘s first act tolerable. Wilson and Gilpin have a natural rapport, and even the subtle introduction of a third member of their friend group doesn’t disrupt that. That friend is Josh (Adam Devine). He keeps inviting Natalie out to karaoke night with his friends, which she turns down with snarky remarks. Even the real world, or cinema’s version of it, has its archetypal dynamics, as Whitney points out. Here we have a protagonist who’s oblivious to someone else’s romantic advances.
Eventually, Isn’t It Romantic gets to its premise. After suffering a head injury, Natalie finds herself inside a romantic comedy version of her life. This film actually does that transition competently. It starts out with her in a hospital room with snot yellow wallpaper. This place is a good one to start building that world because it won’t jolt Natalie and the audience when it starts piling the visual cues we normally see in the genre. That said, this is the second movie I’ve seen this month where a head injury transports a protagonist to an alternate universe.
Natalie’s alternate universe becomes a glossy nightmare but it does come with perks. The client (Liam Hemsworth) who has been ignoring her during her pitches at work now keeps calling her ‘beguiling’ and has a romantic interest in her. Josh, on the other hand, has a meet cute with a yoga ambassador (Priyanka Chopra) in Central Park. Despite this, she still wants to leave the rom-com world. She thinks that that her way out is for her client to profess his love for her, but that doesn’t work.
This film comes from director Todd Strauss-Schulson (A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas) and screenwriters Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman. They come from the romantic side, he from the comedy side. These people behind the camera still built a story with a bad foundation. Here, as with most romantic comedies, people turn each other down because they’re not aware that the other person likes them. This might sound a stretch, but that dynamic enables people and will make them believe things like ‘she likes me, but doesn’t know it yet’. For a moving poking fun of rom-com’s cliches, it’s sad to see that they don’t attack the ones that are most dangerous.