Sometimes in life you are forced to make a choice — you can either have option A or option B, but not both. Sometimes, each option is incompatible with the other. Try to get both, and what you end up with is something of a disaster. This is true no matter the field.
A great example of the problem as it works (or doesn’t) in film opens today. “Isn’t it Romantic” is the new rom-com that isn’t a rom-com because rom-coms are awful film starring Rebel Wilson and directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson. And yes, that’s confusing.
Things don’t start badly for “Isn’t it Romantic,” however. In fact, at the film’s outset it is outstandingly amusing. The audience meets Natalie (Wilson), a junior architect who gets to work on parking garages and who hates romantic comedies. In fact, she hates them to a point that she goes off to her rom-com loving assistant, Whitney (Betty Gilpin), about just how terrible they are for an extended period, pointing out every cliché imaginable.
It is an amusing sequence and one that shows Wilson’s talent of mocking something without being overly cruel. It is also a moment after which everything quickly goes downhill.
Following a mugging in the subway, Natalie wakes up to find herself living in a romantic comedy world. That is, it is her life, but it now follows all the tropes of romantic comedies, from having an over-the-top gay neighbor (Donny, played by Brandon Scott Jones), to having a rich millionaire fall in love with her (Blake, played by Liam Hemsworth), to having her best friend at work (Josh, played by Adam Devine) fall in love with a yoga ambassador/model (Isabella, played by Priyanka Chopra). Natalie’s apartment goes from being tiny and filthy to huge and immaculate. There are flowers all over New York City.
On and on the list goes, offering up all the rom-com clichés Natalie had earlier dismissed and some which, maybe, she hadn’t. Living in this new world, Natalie still dismisses it as wrong and awful, but she also slips into playing the part of the lead actress. This is where the issues crop up.
“Isn’t it Romantic” has Natalie utterly despise the ridiculousness of the rom-com tropes and still completely buy into them. It also attempts to make the audience do the same. We are supposed to understand that this world is fake and terrible and that the clichés are horrific, but we are still meant to embrace each and every one. It doesn’t work as a concept because Natalie’s earlier tirade against rom-coms is 100% right and completely wonderful. How can she—or the audience—accept the diametrically opposed notions that rom-coms are awful and that they’re great?
On top of that, the film is largely a litany of telegraphed jokes. It takes Natalie’s tirade against rom-coms and uses her points as a bullet list for nearly every joke it makes. Natalie said something about female coworkers fighting – check! Natalie talked about slow motion sequences – check! Natalie mentioned pop songs – check! Check, check, check. The movie goes down Natalie’s list of what makes romantic comedies bad and asks the audience to accept all of them happening as good while still acknowledging that they’re bad. And if that doesn’t make your head spin, this reviewer doesn’t know what will.
It is undeniable that plenty of the jokes land in the film. But there is something more than a little offensive about the presentation. The whole thing insults the audience, it is as if the filmmakers are saying, “Yes, all these things are terrible, we don’t deny that, but the same time, we know you’re dumb enough to laugh at them and love every little bit of these awful, awful, clichés.”
Wilson gives it her all, and is no small part of why some of the jokes work, but there is only so much that she can do. And, by the time the credits roll around and the film’s inevitable—and just as offensive as the rest of the proceedings—conclusion arrives, audiences will leave the theater dizzy with the mixed messages.
It isn’t that audiences won’t like what they have seen either, and that, too, is utterly demeaning. The filmmakers (the script is from Erin Cardillo and Dana Fox & Katie Silberman) simply believe that people are foolish enough that it is okay to treat us in this fashion and I fear that they are right.
photo credit: Warner Bros.