It might be a little early to declare this a new golden age of romantic comedies, but let’s at least admit it’s a solid silver.
From traditional cinema (Crazy Rich Asians, Love, Simon) to Netflix (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser) to television (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and even the old internet (the delightful micro-series Quirky Female Protagonist), there’s no shortage of rom-com fare out there. And what data there is proves a desire for it; Crazy Rich Asians was the 17th highest-grossing film of 2018, or third highest if you strip away every sequel, remake and franchise title from the list.
So it’s no surprise that 2019 brings a meta-rom-com to the big screen, from the director (Todd Strauss-Schulson) of the meta-horror The Final Girls, and the writers of such real rom-coms as Couples Retreat, The Wedding Date and How to Be Single.
That last one from 2016 starred Rebel Wilson in the story of a single woman and her friends navigating love and life in New York City, which is pretty much the territory of Isn’t It Romantic. The key difference being that How to Be Single includes a stock shot of a car travelling across the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan, while Isn’t It Romantic features the same shot, but adds a flock of birds flying in a perfect heart shape.
Wilson stars as Natalie, who seems to have grown up in Porpoise Spit, Australia (see Muriel’s Wedding), while watching Pretty Woman. She now lives in New York, works as an architect (the quintessential rom-com job), and has soured on the genre, as she tells her workmates Whitney (Betty Gilpin) and Josh, played by Adam Devine, who looks like Chris before he got Pratt.
After a bonk on the head – we are definitely in a new golden age of bonk-on-the-head movies, after I Feel Pretty and last week’s What Men Want – Natalie doesn’t change her opinions of rom-coms. Instead, she wakes up in hospital and finds that her life now takes place within one.
Thus her apartment is huge and well-furnished; her gay neighbour (Brandon Scott Jones) is now her best friend, and even more stereotypically gay; and Whitney is now her mortal enemy, because that’s how it is for working women in rom-coms. Flowers everywhere suggest a mad set designer at work. Oh, and whenever she throws something out the window it hits someone who really needs it, which is coincidentally how Marilyn Monroe met Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch.
But the biggest change in Natalie’s life is that millionaire Blake (Liam Hemsworth, proving that brother Chris isn’t the only funny one) has decided she’s The One. Meanwhile, Josh has fallen for Isabella (Priyanka Chopra), who’s a swimsuit model, role model and yoga ambassador. Despite the whirlwind nature of these romances, audiences will be forgiven for shouting out to Natalie and Josh that they’re clearly meant to be with each other.
Watching the characters fumble toward this truth is the fun at the heart of the film. Do they make it all the way or decide to love the ones they’re with? That would be telling. But although the title doesn’t end in a question mark, it’s no spoiler to proclaim that the answer to Isn’t It Romantic is yes. It’s comedic too. And musical, although Natalie is probably right to wonder, after an impromptu karaoke dance number: “How did everyone know the choreography?”