Saturday, April 27, 2019

Isn't It Romantic (2019): A Review (Review #1210)


No. It's not. It's awful. It's the worst movie I've seen this year and almost a sure-fire entry in the Worst of 2019.  Isn't It Romantic attempts to give us a female empowerment film by mocking the romantic comedy conventions. However, it is not as clever or intelligent as it thinks it is, its main character is not someone you root for and there is just a nasty undertone to it all.

Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is a somewhat successful architect who suffers from low self-esteem. At the heart of her issues is how she was taught since childhood that romantic comedies like Pretty Women built up a false world and that as a heavyset woman she would never find that kind of love.

Proudly feminist, Natalie trashes rom-coms and is barely tolerant of her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) watching them. Natalie's very platonic male friend Josh (Andy Devine) keeps inviting her to things like karaoke but she keeps turning him down.

It isn't until she hits her head after escaping a mugger that she finds herself, to her horror and anger, in a PG-13 romantic comedy. All the men want her, the world is very colorful, she has an outlandishly large apartment filled with fantastic clothes and she has an outrageously stereotypical gay best friend, Donny (Brandon Scott Jones) to offer advise between finger snaps.

The outrageously handsome and wealthy Australian named Blake (Liam Hemsworth) is besotted with Natalie. She convinces herself that 'the spell' will be broken once he tells her 'I love you', but that doesn't work. She then thinks that she must follow the conventions of romantic comedies to escape this psycho world, which involves voiceovers, slow motion running and stopping My Best Friend's Wedding: that being Andy's wedding to 'yoga ambassador' Isabella (Priyanka Chopra).

In the end, she discovers 'the greatest love of all' and that despite her manner and looks she is worthy of love in all its forms.

Image result for isn't it romanticThere is a difference between spoofing romantic comedies and trashing them. Isn't It Romantic thinks its going for the former when it is actually doing the latter. Even that could be embraced as there are many awful rom-coms that do send a bad message. Films like Made of Honor and The Ugly Truth in particular spring to mind. Their message is an element in modern romantic comedies that pretty much appall me: the idea that an intelligent woman with her own career would willingly become romantically involved and even fall in love with a loutish man who treats her shabbily.

Curiously though, Isn't It Romantic does not take on deeper elements of some of the negative aspects of romantic comedies. Instead, it merely tackles the surface elements: the characters, the look, the scenarios. Even in execution Isn't It Romantic is nowhere near as clever or insightful as it thinks it is. The 'getting knocked unconscious' is itself a cliche. Shockingly, it was much better done in I Feel Pretty, another film that wants to play with conventions to give a 'positive' message and that also doesn't land its mark.

To be fair though, I Feel Pretty had some qualities that made it tolerable. Isn't It Romantic has none.

I wonder about the Hemsworth Brothers Liam and Chris. I personally find them both very attractive people with extremely limited acting abilities. Fine: you cast either as Hamlet or Willy Loman and see how far you get. They also seem to have a penchant for being in faux female empowerment films that end in musical numbers: Chris with the all-female Ghostbusters, Liam with Isn't It Romantic. Coincidentally or not, both brothers opted to resort to their native Australian accents in their respective films. I figure to make it less taxing on whatever passes for their acting abilities.

It's not so much that Liam cannot act (though I do think that) so much as there is no character to act out: both his dismissive or besotted manner towards Natalie has no basis. Moreover, the plot point that he was really 'evil' may be another romantic comedy cliche but that too has no basis for being.

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This is, to my memory, the first Rebel Wilson film I have seen. Her Natalie is surprisingly unlikable to start with, making her anti-romantic comedy case with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Despite having a career her frumpy wardrobe and at times dismissive manner make Natalie someone you don't care about. I know Isn't It Romantic is about her evolution but given she either lets others walk over her or has contempt for others one wonders why people would want to be around her.

I found that it was not her appearance that alienated me but her manner. It also may have to do with her performance itself, where she is so overtly going for the 'I'm making a female empowerment' style that it comes across more as speech-making than anything remotely resembling a human.

Chopra too was far too broad even for a romantic comedy to be believed.

Devine had the benefit of essentially playing the same character in both universes, so he came across as an actual human. Curiously, that's a romantic comedy convention Isn't It Romantic didn't bother to alter: the average guy who actually likes the female lead for herself, something else the film shares with I Feel Pretty, Sweet Home Alabama and perhaps among better films to use this trope The Devil Wears Prada and In A World... all of which did the characters and scenarios better. As Jones is playing a parody of a parody, I can roll with how awful it is.

Isn't It Romantic is neither romantic or funny. It also isn't intelligent, which it thinks it is. There are many things to critique about romantic comedies and they are ripe for spoofing. Isn't It Romantic never settled on either. It also failed to entertain, which is deadly no matter what genre.


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