When I first heard about Isn't It Romantic I thought that it was going to cover the same ground as They Came Together. It wasn't. Instead, I got something that felt like a cross between I Feel Pretty and The Final Girls (which was, funnily enough, also from this director, Todd Strauss-Schulson).
Rebel Wilson plays a young woman named Natalie. Natalie is an architect, although a lot of people around her seems to treat her as a general dogsbody. Natalie is also quite the cynic, and has been taught from a young age (as we see in the opening scene) to always keep in mind that rom-coms are just nonsense, full of things that would never happen to someone like herself. Which makes it worse when, one day after struggling with a mugger and running into a metal beam, Natalie wakes up in hospital, and wakes up in the middle of what seems to be her own romantic comedy. Will this allow her to learn some kind of valuable lesson, or is it just going to be an endurance test until she can figure out a way back to normality.
A lot of Rebel Wilson performances depend very much on how you feel about Rebel Wilson. I tend to enjoy her work but each subsequent movie highlights the fact that she always plays things the same way. That can work, and you could say the same of her male co-star here (Adam Devine, who plays the smug moron-cum-douchebag in 90% of the movies he has done), but it's not something to rely on forever. She's fine here, and given decent support from a core group that includes Devine (the best friend who might end up being more than that), Liam Hemsworth (very . . . "beguiling" . . . as the hunky love interest), Priyanka Chopra (woman who Devine falls for, providing standard complication), Betty Gilpin (friendly work colleague in the real world, acidic workplace enemy underused in the rom-com world), and Brandon Scott Jones (popping up to be the subgenre-requisite gay BFF).
No one in the cast stands out as a bad choice. The big problem here lies elsewhere. The script. Written by Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman, Isn't It Romantic has some funny and clever moments here and there, especially when it comes to censored swearing and transitions that imply sex without showing anything happening, but everything centres on a central idea that doesn't work. Wilson knows all of the tropes, and rolls her eyes at all of them, yet she goes along with them all while commenting on her displeasure. This allows the film to underline everything in every scene, making it less fun. Not only do viewers have everything spoon-fed to them while being bashed on the head with a rom-com rubber mallet, they also get constantly reminded that what they're watching is nonsense and (essentially) without any value. Where the movies mentioned in the first paragraph had a certain sweetness and optimism at the heart of them, whether you liked them or not, this has a cynicism in line with the main character, and that sours what could have been a very enjoyable rom-com that wore some layers of cool meta clothing.
Strauss-Schulson does a good job with the direction, ensuring that this always feels like your standard rom-com, from the visual style of each scene to frequent use of uplifting pop standards on the soundtrack. The film feels infused by every modern rom-com, helped there by the script, but nothing can quite outweigh the misjudged tone. I would have liked to laugh along with this film, instead it feels like they're pointing at things for you to laugh at.
There are laughs to be had, and a couple of fun musical numbers, but this is ultimately a disappointment, despite making a very good point during the grand finale.
Americans may order it here.