By: Steve Pulaski
I've already written pretty extensively, maybe out of nostalgic remorse or genuine optimism, that the parody/spoof genre should make a comeback, as ill-fated as it would likely be. It would probably turn into a mess of stale political jokes that have definedSaturday Night Live for most of this decade, and run-of-the-mill pop culture asides that Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer "pioneered." But I would retain the hope that if the spoof genre did indeed become relevant again, it would at least produce films with a more realized, less wishy-washy film than Isn't it Romantic, a lame hybrid of parody and romantic comedy.
The film stars Australian actor Rebel Wilson, whose charisma lit up the screen in Pitch Perfect and even the mostly ho-hum How to Be Single. Wilson plays Natalie, a New York architect who is used and abused at work despite her credentials. One day, her best friend/assistant, Whitney (Betty Gilpin), tries to get her to understand the value and beauty of romantic comedies. Natalie is still hung up on her mother's unkind words she solicited to her when she was young, watching Pretty Woman, that the genre is filled with lies and empty promises of true love for women that look like she does. Natalie has grown to loathe the commonalities of all those films: the clumsy protagonist, the empty-headed side characters, the slow-motion sequence of someone running to stop a wedding, and the impossibly beautiful settings.
Later, Natalie is almost mugged stepping off the train, and bonks her head into a support beam. When she wakes up, she finds herself in a hospital that looks more like a William Sonoma, and emerges into the bright, vibrant, and airy world of a romantic comedy. Her close friends and acquaintances have all taken on the personalities you'd find in a film of the genre. Her coworker, Josh (Adam DeVine), who is smitten with her despite her inability to see it, quickly falls for a super-model/yoga ambassador (Priyanka Chopra), Blake (Liam Hemsworth), a client with whom she exchanged minimal words, is now head-over-heels in love with her after they meet-cute, and Whitney has become the venomous bitch at the office because of course two women can't work in the same building and get along.
The immediate issue with Isn't It Romantic is one that's been obvious since the trailer debuted: it's a film with an identity crisis. Conflicted on whether or not it should embrace the satirical side of its premise to the fullest degree or opt for the traditional structures of a romantic comedy, it frustratingly tows the line and makes something that isn't as nearly wry nor as humorous as it thinks. A good part of the reason the feature-length spoof movie, ala Scary Movie, has become all-but-extinct is because of the fact that most of the genre's films haven't given audiences something to remember long-term. They settle for the bare-basics of recognizing tropes, characters, or events from other films and falsely believe the humor derives from familiarity and not new, refreshing jokes or intricacies.
Isn't It Romantic has the lovely Wilson repeat the fact that romantic comedies are, by and large, bland, unoriginal, and boast misconstrued ideas about romance, but by the end of the picture, screenwriters Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox (What Happens in Vegas), and Katie Silberman have gotten her and the rest of the cast to abide by those same moronic rules. In the end, all we learn is that romantic comedies are contrived folderol, but we might as well play along. It's a pitiful cop-out.
Isn't It Romantic does bear likable qualities. Beyond Wilson and her energy, there's Leah Katznelson's costumes, which are gorgeous in their many colors and vivid in their expression of the exaggerated "worlds" in which these films generally take place. Cinematographer Simon Duggan (The Great Gatsby) breeds life into the dance numbers, especially the karaoke sequence featuring Wilson's Natalie leaping across a stage and a bar belting out "I Wanna Dance with Somebody." Director Todd Strauss-Schulson (A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas) even does a fine job managing a film with no singular setting, but a series of lavish interiors that do indeed come to life on a big-screen.
But all of this is icing on a cake tainted by a lack of identity and the worst, most uninteresting batch of supporting characters in a film I've seen in quite some time. Adam DeVine is no love interest, and no matter how much he wants to play up the suitable bachelor role, his personality of a jokey, aw-shucks dude still bleeds through like a poorly bandaged wound. Liam Hemsworth is grating in his personification of the perfect beau, and Brandon Scott Jones, playing Natalie's neighbor and "gay sidekick," is cheaply utilized and boringly stereotypical. Isn't It Romantic didn't need to be a statement film, but it did need to stick to a particular identity and "slightly better than I Feel Pretty" should not be any film's one-sentence summary of quality.