Isn't It Romantic Isn't Actually Romantic At All
And Feels A Little Mean Spirited
So, I unapologetically love rom coms. I think the good ones are fun and sweet and let you relive a moment of happiness at their best and the bad ones can usually at least give you some entertainment in their stupidity. I love them all the same and have no time for people that write off the whole genre because they're formulaic. News flash, most entertainment is, especially superhero movies. The trick to good storytelling is creating an interesting character or narrative that makes use of its tropes wisely.
A good rom com will have engaging and/or charming leads, good chemistry between the leads, and a fun story that draws them together. Some of my favourites include, but are not limited to While You Were Sleeping (a rare gem where every character is endearing in their own right), The Sure Thing (an underrated John Cusack gem), Two Night Stand (this one is weirdly charming to me), and Set It Up (an absolutely adorable film with incredibly charming leads and side characters). Now that you know my taste in good movies, I bring you my taste in bad. Among my favourite trash rom coms are most of the Hallmark Christmas drivel because they are too fun to snark on (although some are just boring. Really the only offensive thing a movie can do for me is be utterly boring). If you want me to name names, well Christmas Kiss is one I watch a lot and I recognize how bad and stupid it is, how it makes no sense that he wouldn't recognize her at all, even with all the make up but I don't know, I just like it. Santa Girl, you already knew that one if you've read my previous articles. And one not Christmas rom com offering is Celeste in the City purely, solely because I love Ethan Embry and it also has Miranda from Roswell and Xander from Buffy in it. Nostalgia bomb galore. So, know that I love rom coms, but I appreciate that they have a formula and I rather enjoy dunking on media I actually like when I spot funny tropes.
Along comes Isn't It Romantic, a film which seemed tailor made for someone like me. The premise is that a woman conks her head and is suddenly in an alternate reality that plays by rom com rules. I think that is a great and hilarious concept and I love me some parody too. Unfortunately, after waiting a year to see this one, it didn't really live up to the hype I made in my own head. That's on me, I know but let me explain.
My first issue is the angle they went with and I wonder if this might have turned out differently had they not cast Rebel Wilson and Adam Devine in it. A lot of the humour seems inserted in for her but I'm not really a Rebel Wilson fan to begin with so it does nothing for me. Also, it started off with her loving rom coms which got me excited for the movie, I admittedly, made up in my head until it curveballs into a different lesson which is fine. The movie didn't have to go the way I wanted, hell a movie going against my expectations is usually pretty great. I just feel that the angle they went with wasn't that strong and also made it seem like everyone involved in making this doesn't really like rom coms all that much. It was then very confusing when I saw that three women had written this, one of whom wrote one of my favourite rom coms, Set It Up. Where did that magic go? She clearly knew how to write a good rom com so why did the semi-parody fall so flat?
It's my humble opinion, and I'm sure I'm not the first or last to think this, is that the best parodies come from a love of the source material. You have to love something in order to truly pick apart its little quibbles and make something that is entertaining but not harsh or overly mean. It's like a good roast, the insult kind not the meat, your friends poking fun at you is a good time. Comedians being paid to annihilate you for the entertainment of people who hate you is just stomach achingly mean. This movie wasn't that harsh even it's mostly just bland and relied too heavily on referencing what other movies do. It's why the 'Movie' franchise sucks so much, they are soulless reference machines with nothing to actually poke fun of that comes from whatever genre they are trying to shit on and I'm glad those died. At the very least, Isn't It Romantic didn't just devolve into recreating famous scenes so it's a step above the "Movie" movies but if you want great examples of parodies made out of love, check out anything in Mel Brooks' oeuvre. Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Spaceballs, etc. I also quite love Top Secret! which poked fun at spy movies and was made by the guys who made Airplane! another great parody movie. And hell, even though the guys who made the "Movie" franchise also made Not Another Teen Movie, I'd argue that one actually poked fun at the tropes of its time and succeeded where Isn't It Romantic did not. And I'm super confused at how this happened when I liked Set It Up so much but we'll try to dissect my issues with this movie.
One of the biggest things that bugged me about Isn't It Romantic was its laziness. It never felt like she had landed in a rom com but just a weird alternate reality where everyone seemed to fall in love with her. That didn't feel right. By rom com standards, there should be no one else for the lead but their "true love". Everyone else should be overly invested in their relationship and be side characters. I think it was unfair that her friend would turn into her enemy in a rom com, what did that say about their relationship? It just seemed weird to me. Now, it would be funny if someone who she kind of didn't like in the real world morphed into a true rom com rival in the alternate world so it's like her life but exaggerated. On top of that, any time she encountered something from a rom com, she had to comment on it in case we didn't get it. Also her only commentary on it seemed to be "So dumb!" which is neither insightful, nor funny. How did Not Another Teen Movie do the rom com tropes funnier than this?
The thing is, it isn't enough to just say what's happening and that it's stupid, you have to twist it to be funny. There's a great gag in NATM where a guy keeps trying to start a slow clap but fails until finally succeeding after getting sage advice from Melissa Joan Hart about knowing the right moment for one, that being the very end get together moment. It comments on a trope without waiting until the last second and going "Oh great, this is the slow clap moment. SO DUMB!" That's boring and does nothing.
Another thing that bugged me was that they made Rebel Wilson's character not like rom coms. I think they thought it would be funny to see someone who hates something have to go through it but honestly, I think the story would have worked way better had she loved them to a fault. She could be fantasizing about that perfect meet cute moment with the perfect guy, attain it and only then realize that perfection isn't everything. It's a stronger motivation and a much stronger character arc. But, if they did want her to hate rom coms but somehow know everything about them, wouldn't it make sense to have her character be a behind the scenes worker on rom com movies? That way she can hate them but still have them on the brain which would lend itself more to why she ended up in a rom com filled land. On top of this, I really wasn't feeling the self-love angle they went with. It seemed tacked on and cheesy. It's a nice message though but just didn't feel right for the story they were telling.
Liam Hemsworth's character looked nice but otherwise was very uninteresting. I suppose they were going for the bland lead that ends up in every Hallmark movie but him calling her beguiling all the time felt more melodramatic romance than rom com. It's an entirely different thing and no, it doesn't make sense to mix them just because they both involve romance. They operate on different storytelling rules so keep the melodrama away from my rom coms.
On top of everything, for a movie called Isn't It Romantic, I certainly didn't find any part of it romantic. I don't think Rebel is all that strong being anything other than a kind of goofy, sarcastic, comic actress and that's fine but it's a problem when you need her to show some kind of genuine emotion. I never got the feeling she cared that much about either of her romantic partners in this movie. That's a huge problem because even in a movie that is lampooning rom coms, you should kind of want them to be happy and get romanced. Here she is, a girl that doesn't believe in romance suddenly having a dream guy, you'd think there'd be a moment that she finally gets wooed by fluttery romantic gestures. There really wasn't much of any of that because they wanted to make time for big splashy musical numbers since she's the woman from Pitch Perfect. We get it, Rebel sings. In fairness, the I want to Dance With Somebody performance was fun, but it ddin't really feel like it added anything to the story.
I know it's a bit unfair of me to just wish for a different movie than I got but even just going by what this movie gave, it wasn't that great. I don't feel that Rebel and Adam have that much chemistry, the other characters felt blander than the side characters of every rom com they made fun of for having bland side characters. Excuse you, the family was everything in While You Were Sleeping, don't lump all rom coms in with Hallmark. I'll give them the exaggerated gay best friend was pretty clever but when Rebel's character complained that the side characters never get developed, I kind of thought that maybe they'd work to define them a bit? Like, if she hated that, wouldn't it have made sense for her character to start, I don't know asking the side characters about their wants and desires? Maybe this could be how she starts to learn more about Adam Devine's character and realizing how much he liked her. (Though they made that way too obvious in the real world so it was dumb she didn't notice then either).
It's just frustrating to see such a great concept wasted like this. It added nothing new, didn't comment on anything, didn't change anything up, and for all this movie's posturing about how lame rom com tropes are, it sure as hell followed them to a t. Especially the realizing she likes her friend instead of hot perfect guy trope.
I'm still waiting on that really great rom com send up to come out because I don't think it's been achieved yet. There's funny things to comment on, you just need the right person to crack it and it should be someone that absolutely loves, consumes, and gets the genre. Isn't It Romantic is just bland and forgettable and that's the worst thing it can be to me.