Before you can lampoon something, before you can satirize something, you must know as much can you can about it. You have to know the ins-and-outs of it, the heart and soul of it. In order for the humor to land properly, you must speak the language of the knowledgeable audience in sight, sound, and action. It’s what made films like Airplane! and Blazing Saddles hit the collective consciousness with such concussive force that audiences still quote dialogue to this day. Whether or not the Todd Strauss-Schulson-directed Isn’t It Romantic is destined for such acclaim is hard to say, as both the critical and audience reaction reported from Rotten Tomatoes isn’t particularly strong, yet Romantic undoubtedly possesses all the potential to become a part of that which it satires. It has the look, the sound, and the feel of classic romantic comedies executed with a modern, progressive approach which injects energy into a subgenre desperately in need of rejuvenation.
Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is a successful architect with a dutiful assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) and loyal best friend Josh (Adam Devine). However, despite her strong foundation of support, she stills doesn’t think she has what it takes. That’s why she gets pushed around by her fellow architects, the office manager keeps sliding her responsibilities over to Natalie, and even new client Blake (Liam Hemsworth) thinks she’s just a coffee girl. All of this changes when she strikes her head against a girder beam while fighting off a mugger in a subway station and wakes up to discover that suddenly she’s the star of her own personal romantic comedy. At first, she’s horrified at the banality of it, herself an avid hater of romantic comedies and their ridiculous tropes, yet, the longer she’s there, she begins to realize that sometimes love is exactly what you need, even if it’s not what you expect.
In order to properly satirize something, you need two things: information and experience. Providing both is the behind the camera team comprised of Strauss-Schulson and writers Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman. What makes them qualified? Strauss-Schulson directed the similarly genre-bending The Final Girls, wherein the leads found themselves trying to survive a horror film they’d been sucked into. Cardillo not only created the story from which she, Fox, and Silberman crafted the screenplay, but she’s spend time both in front of the camera on various television shows and worked as a writer, including on the pseudo-rom-com Life Sentence. Fox possesses similar experience in-front and behind the camera, having written and performed in 2009’s Couples Retreat. All of this experience is bolstered by Silberman who wrote 2018’s hilarious Set It Up, a rom-com that plays like a modern Cyrano de Bergerac without all the incest. Their combined knowledge of scripting and staging comes into play in full force, simultaneously using various tropes while making fun of them. For example, waking from her head injury, Natalie must wear clothing from the lost-and-found as hers were too damaged. As this reality is immediately hyper-real, she exits wearing the iconic black and white outfit Julia Roberts’s Vivian Ward wears after a shopping spree in Pretty Woman. This is not the only head tilt to the famous rom-com, but there are plenty others. Do you enjoy a random, highly choreographed dance number? How does two strike you? What about impossibly clean streets and friendly bystanders? Got those, too. The kind of stereotyping which sets back gender and sexual identity politics a few decades? OF COURSE Isn’t It Romantic features those because the blueprint must be followed. Where Romantic gets clever is how aware Natalie is of the rules of her PG-13 surroundings – no cursing, sex is missed during fadeout to the next morning, the laws of physics and reason can be and should be bent – and how she slowly begins to use them to her advantage. As much as Romantic lampoons romantic comedies, there’s clearly a lot of love and affection as well. Even if you didn’t grow up watching the genre or only know the nods through pop culture references, there’s an opportunity to see all the tropes screwed with while wearing a giddy smile the whole way through.
Seeing it through is a strong cast lead by Wilson. She’s a strong performer in terms of emotionality and physicality and Romantic offers a chance for her to really strut her stuff. Refreshingly, no laughs are derived from her size or stature, making her larger internal struggle be with the way she views herself and how that results in how others treat her. Whether dressed in standard street clothes in the real world or rocking Vivian Ward’s classic stunning red dress, Wilson is confident in communicating Natalie’s journey. Devine, as best friend Josh, is always the perfect scene partner for Wilson. Their interpersonal chemistry stole many a scene in the original Pitch Perfect and it continues here. Gratefully, as elevated as the personas were in Pitch Perfect, none of that is present in Romantic, enabling both actors to find the humor in more grounded interactions. As support, Gilpin and Hemsworth are fun, though not particularly well-rounded as characters. Keep in mind that at just under 90-minutes, Romantic maintains a sharp clip which never feels as though the situations or characters overstay. As such, the audience only gets a few scenes with each and their respective roles are largely one-dimensional. That said, their inclusion is not insignificant. The final member of the main cast is Priyanka Chopra, an actress who hit U.S. screens via ABC’s Quantico after a strong career in Bollywood. The less you know about her character the better, but trust that Chopra’s a scene stealer.
Considering the obvious attention to detail present within Romantic in honoring romantic comedies even as it skewers them, it’s a shame that the special features included don’t delve into the various homages and references that litter the film. There are four fun deleted scenes which are delightful on their own, but were clearly removed to maintain the brisk pace of the film. Albeit brief, the “I Wanna Dance!” featurette explores a little bit of what went into the design and staging of the two wonderfully choreographed dance numbers in the film. Honestly, this featurette only wets the appetite for more details that went into crafting Romantic, which makes the exclusion of more special features disappointing.
Rom-coms tend to get a bad rap for the way they present life and the way love works. Tales of romances have been in humanity’s lexicon since before the written word. It’s in our collective nature to seek out love and romantic comedies fill that particular need. The good ones, like any engaging story, resonate. That’s why people talk about The Wedding Date, Pretty Woman, Notting Hill, and My Best Friend’s Wedding, to name a few. The way Romantic takes the tried-and-true formula, flips it around, and uses comedy to examine audiences’ fascination with the subgenre is rather delightful. It doesn’t just make fun of rom-coms, it embraces them as it mines their ridiculousness to fuel a journey of love that’s more personal than societal. Plus, beyond all that, who doesn’t love a little Golden Hollywood dance number?
Blu-ray Combo Pack & Digital Bonus Features
- “I Wanna Dance” featurette.
- Deleted scenes.
DVD Bonus Features
- “I Wanna Dance” featurette.
Available now on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, and digital.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.