It’s a contradictory format: making fun of the genre that you fit perfectly within. But Isn’t It Romantic does just that. The movie, which will be released on February 13th, features Rebel Wilson satirizing the artificiality of romantic comedies with a plot that checks all of the audience’s expectations—and desires—for the genre. This movie gives us every cliché element that we secretly want, but gets away with it because it is refreshingly self–aware.
At an early screening of the Warner Bros. film at the renamed Philadelphia Film Center, formerly the Prince Theater, the audience shared constant laughter. Within the black box theater, we sat at circular, cafe tables decorated with flower petals, jars filled with candied hearts, and neon lights in the shapes of moons, rainbows, and the word “love.” While the festive environment and excitement of early access definitely added to the experience, Isn’t It Romantic was a lively, amusing, and entertaining flick perfect for a girl’s night out (making it a no–brainer that the film’s being released on Galentine’s Day). What I found most impressive about the movie, however, was how it successfully navigated today’s societal norms.
Women have spoken out: we want to see “real” women in the media. We want girls to be more than beauty, to be smart and successful, and to not need a man in her life to make her happy. At the same time however, many of us would be disappointed if we went to a rom–com and saw little romance. With Wilson’s character, Natalie, the movie challenged norms to please our progressive culture that calls for body positivity and female empowerment while still giving the audience what they want: a love story with A–list celebrities, upbeat music dance numbers, and a happy ending.
The movie opens with a young Natalie, watching Julia Roberts’ Pretty Woman as the 1964 song “Oh, Pretty Woman” plays in the background. Her mother (Jennifer Saunders) tells her to turn the movie off, arguing that “love is not a fairytale, there’s no happy endings.” Here we are presented with a protagonist who has been told she’s not good, special, or beautiful enough to have a happy ending. 25 years later, Natalie works as an architect in an office, is manipulated by her co–workers to do their work for them, and is completely oblivious to the flirtatious advances of her co–worker, Josh (Adam Devine).
It is during this dully–colored segment of the film that the preposterousness of rom–coms begins to be called into play. At one point, Natalie is explaining to her assistant and best friend, Whitney (Betty Gilpin) a long list of such absurdities, including the notion that women have to be enemies in rom–coms and that the female protagonist’s clumsiness is perceived as adorable (to which Natalie remarks—“in real life people would think she has muscular dystrophy”).
After running into a metal pole in the subway, Natalie wakes up in an alternate universe, which she calls a mother f***ing romantic comedy, that’s PG–13! In this alternate world, men look Natalie in the eye, New York City actually smells good, and to Natalie’s dismay, she can’t swear. Despite the seeming perfection, Natalie continues to poke fun and question irrational actions. For example, when Liam Hemsworth’s character, Blake, writes each digit of his phone number on a separate rose petal, Natalie wittily replies that there are 3.6 million permutations for that sequence.
By switching the film to this alternate rom–com world, but having Natalie continue to mock it, Isn’t It Romantic balances comedy with critique. The stereotypical “hot guy” and “beautiful woman” are still featured (Hemsworth and Priyanka Chopra, who plays Isabella, Josh’s love interest). Cheesy pop songs like “A Thousand Miles” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” play, Natalie still wakes up with makeup on, and women are pitted against each other—not just Whitney and Natalie, but also Natalie and Isabella. These features contradict the entire argument of the first half hour of the movie. But because the elements continue to be made fun of, they’re passed off as acceptable.
Familiar elements of Wilson, like her Pitch Perfect mermaid pose, acapella singing, and sexual–but–funny dancing ensue. We learn the importance of self–love and confidence, of not letting others determine your worth. At the same time, we are treated to a “happy ending” as the girl falls for the guy, but makes clear she doesn’t need him to complete her. We also get Hemsworth playing a saxophone, so that’s always a good time.
Overall, Isn’t It Romantic was cute—a word that I heard several women in the audience use to describe the film. Was it ground–breaking, oscar–nomination material? Probably not. Was it a great night I’m glad I had and a good and hilarious way to celebrate Galentine’s Day? Absolutely.
Isn’t It Romantic will be out in theaters February 13th.