Isn’t it romantic? Not really, but it is just a bit better than what’s expected from commercial romantic comedies. While Todd Strauss-Schulson’s Isn’t it Romantic may not be able to make audiences pine for a love of their own this Valentine’s Day, it does put a semi-realistic twist on the overly-optimistic genre. Architect Natalie (Rebel Wilson) believes she’ll never find love because it never looks for her — that is until she is courted by pretty boy Blake (Liam Hemsworth) and admired with each stumble she makes. “I’m stuck in an f-” yells Natalie, comically censored by a reversing truck. “-romantic comedy!”
Natalie encounters bitchy coworkers, yoga ambassadors, and several songs and dance numbers. It’s over-the-top, but Natalie’s matter-of-fact thinking and blunt manner add for some sort of twisted reality within the story. These stylized “romantic comedy” scenes, full of pristine yachts and an idolized New York City with flower pots in the subways and walls made of windows, are contrasted with Natalie’s unfiltered, “coffee girl” life. She’s unhappy with this new romantic comedy style of living, but the real heart of the film is her realization that she’s even more unhappy with her humdrum life, void of any real compassion.
Wilson is fun, as she plays her typical-yet-perfected role of the curt individual, wronged by society. With an opening sequence of Pretty Woman, spoiled by her mother, Natalie accepts the nagging role of a realist, closed off to any sorts of affection. She has learned to see things as they are, but to a fault: she can’t see her ditsy best friend, Josh (Adam Devine), is in love with her. She is constantly declining his offers of karaoke, deeming them embarrassing and weird. Devine is probably the worst part of the film, his overacting of unnecessary flirtations and awkward jokes bring the lighthearted tone down to a failed comedy.
Driven to return to her dreary life, Natalie decides she’ll have a little fun and fall in love with Blake. They share an evening of ritzy fun and Blake professes his love — but it doesn’t work. Natalie is still stuck in her perfect apartment, left realizing he may not be Mr. Right. She becomes jealous of Josh’s new love interest, the swimsuit model from the billboard outside the office, Isabella (Priyanka Chopra). After she finally agrees to his karaoke, with an underdone sequence to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” it’s clear to see where everything is headed: the halted wedding scene Natalie so despises, but with a profession of love for someone unprecedented.
No matter which version of New York, nothing about the film feels real. The “real” scenes attempt to push too many realities, and of course, the romantic comedy portion is falsified. Even the cliché staged scenes feel nothing like those of “real” romantic comedies. It certainly isn’t a critique on the genre, or on any film in particular, but rather the mindset that love is unobtainable unless it looks like it does in the movies. The overhyped nature of love in the film has pushed audiences to believe it isn’t real, but Isn’t it Romantic argues it’s this apathetic mindset that’s actually at fault for a general lack of tenderness.
It certainly isn’t a movie to write home about, but it’s well aware of this fact and uses its cheesy essence to lighten the mood. The climactic scene isn’t as predictable as it lends itself to be, and though it drives an unoriginal message of empowerment down the viewer’s throat, it’s a better message than most romantic comedies. The actual romantic plot of the movie ends up on the sidelines — and it should. This film is about Natalie, her growth in life and being open to love. Even if this arc is oddly metaphorized as a parking garage, it is a wonderfully pragmatic way to approach this Valentine’s Day.