If there are many movies that have knowingly played with romcom tropes (Sleepless In Seattle, (500) Days Of Summer), there are only a handful that devote their entire running time to skewering the genre. From meet-cutes to last-minute dashes, Todd Strauss-Schulson’s (The Final Girls, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas) spry comedy goes full Scream on the romcom but in the gentlest way possible. It’s a likeable, polished, occasionally inspired confection but doesn’t quite have the guts to have its frosted cupcake and eat it.
Indoctrinated by her mother (Jennifer Saunders) to hate the premise and promise of romcoms (“Life’s not a fairy tale. Not for girls like us,” she tells her young daughter during Pretty Woman), Natalie (Rebel Wilson) grows up working as junior architect in a dowdy office, living in a cramped, run down New York apartment and decidedly anti-romantic. An extended, not particularly funny brush with a mugger sees her hit her head and wake up in a hospital room, in a private room filled with flowers and greeted by a handsome doctor (Tom Ellis) to the strains of ‘Theme From Another Place’. She doesn’t know it yet but Natalie is now living in a romcom.
It gets the details right but is also scattershot in its approach.
It’s here Isn’t It Romantic has to deliver on its pitch — how does a cynical modern woman survive in romcom hell? — and, when it does, it’s a lot of fun. There’s a string of gags about unrealistic apartment sizes, huge high-tech offices, quaint, spotless New York neighbourhoods, gay best friends who set back the rights of LGBTQ+ by years, makeover montages, voiceovers, bitchy work colleagues and a big danceathon to Whitney Houston. While it gets some of the details right — the opening bars of Vanessa Carlton’s ‘A Thousand Miles’ constantly interrupting the action, helicopter shots starting close on taxi cabs and pulling out to reveal the Big Apple — it is also scattershot in its approach, lampooning tropes that feel far too broad to land.
In a welcome lead role after years of playing the kooky mate, Wilson is strong in these early sections, an appalled stranger in a strange land, terrified when workplace hottie Liam Hemsworth starts noticing her. But when the film has to swap comedic sideswipes for a romantic resolution it leaves her high and dry. The writing never really resolves the knotty problem of Natalie breaking free from the conventions of the genre yet simultaneously learning to love them. In the end, it settles for a wishy-washy Love Yourself mantra that resembles the Amy Schumer vehicle I Feel Pretty. Which is a shame as, for most of its 93 minutes, Isn’t It Romantic had the potential for more bite than that.