It is rather. Boasting an irresistible premise, feel good charm and tremendous leading talent in Rebel Wilson – not romcom’s first plus-sized belle – Isn’t It Romantic is an easy watch. It’s not a beguiling film by any stretch of the imagination but, with this level of genial appeal, it should do very well with any audience prepared to settle in.
From director Todd Strauss-Schulson, Isn’t It Romantic seems more convinced of its own novelty than it has a right to be. The conceit of the film – conjured by writers Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox and Katie Silberman – is that cynical Natalie’s (Wilson) low self-esteem gains a much needed boost when a knock to the head sees her propelled into an alternate romcom reality. All flowers, swooning and dance numbers. To that end, this might be best considered as the spiritual sequel to Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein’s I Feel Pretty. Once again, the message here is that real women only need love themselves to be happy. Once again, it takes concussion for said woman to reach that conclusion. Yes, apparently, gender equality in Hollywood can only be achieved once every female star has taken a serious injury to the head.
As we first meet Natalie, she’s a wide eyed ingenue in nineties Australia. A perfect doll, she dreams of happily ever afters and is glued to Pretty Women. Her dour future, however, will not be dictated by the glossy union of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere but by her crotchety mother (a cameoing Jennifer Saunders): ‘in real life girls like us don’t get that…someone might marry you for a visa, that’s about it’. Flash forward twenty-five years and Natalie’s an architect in grotty New York. In the present day, she hates romcoms: ‘all those movies all lies set to terrible pop songs’. In her defence, she’s got a point. Reductive cliches and silly plot trajectories have long since been staples of the enduring genre, which remains beloved in spite of its flaws.
Natalie has much to learn too though. Those around her abuse her lack of confidence, while her animosity towards love stories has left her blind to the emotion and unable to realise that cute co-worker Josh (Adam DeVine) really likes her. Like, really, really. But then comes the transformative bump – the fallout of an unlikely subway mugging. When Natalie awakes in hospital, she does so fully made up and with an unreasonably attractive doctor at her side (Tom Ellis). Things get even still cutesier as she leaves the hospital – dressed, in the first of many nods, like Vivian Ward – and learns that her crappy apartment is now lush, her gruff neighbour is now her gay best friend and that gorgeous heterosexual men are falling at her feet left right and centre.
As a production, Isn’t It Romantic is very well made. A close-cut and free flowing opening stretch provides smart contrast to the safer directorial vision that captures Natalie’s dream-world, whilst the karaoke sequence later on is a well choreographed highlight. In scripting, meanwhile, this is a sugared but blunt vehicle. Whilst there is comic value in watching Natalie rail against the tropes around her, the film never particularly strikes as being funny in its own terms. Trainwreck and They Come Together both cut deeper in similar territory.
Yet still, this works. Isn’t It Romantic makes for a fun ride and sweet enough tale of acceptance. Wilson has comfortably found life outside of Pitch Perfect and more than stands up as a winning romcom hero. This may well turn out to be a firm favourite for one or two streamers but most will prefer the predecessors it references. Nice enough.