It’s a clever premise that propels ISN’T IT ROMANTIC, using the idiom of rom-coms to give us just that, but a rom-com that affirms that the regular Joe and Jane out there can also be the star. One that deconstructs every cliché with self-aware relish, while also staying open to the magic of true love. Fueled by Rebel Wilson’s deadpan irony, the thorny path to true love takes just enough unexpected twists (and jabs) to keep the proceedings fresh by keeping us all in on the joke.
Wilson is Australian-born Natalie, a plump dreamer whose notions of romance, spurred by Julia Roberts movie, s was quashed early on by her mother (Jennifer Saunders), who was quick to point on the differences between real people like them and Ms Roberts. And did so between sips of wine floats (don’t ask). Twenty-five years later, still-plump and most decidedly attractive, Natalie has become a modestly successful architect in New York, specializing in parking garages, and living in the typical rat-hole of an apartment in a less than glamorous part of town. Plagued with confidence issues, she fails to notice that her best friend, Josh (Adam Devine) is secretly pining for her, doubts her ability to take part in the big presentation to the hotel mogul (Liam Hemsworth), and explains in fine detail to her rom-com loving and thoroughly bedraggled assistant (Betty Gilpin) just why that genre is so toxic.
In short order, and courtesy of a mugging that knocks her unconscious, Natalie finds herself down the rabbit hole and over the rainbow when she wakes up to a New York that exists only in those rom-coms. A place where the street signs give directions for romance, birds fly in heart-shaped formation, and the hotel mogul falls in love with her after almost running her over in his stretch limo. Throughout the scenarios that bear more than a passing resemblance to so many of Ms Roberts’ films, Natalie is our audience surrogate, copping to how ridiculous things are, from how bar patrons know the choreography to back up her karaoke song, to the slo-mo that captures the de riguer final chase sequence. When she draws the line at a fashion montage, over the objections of stereotypical gay best friend (Brandon Scott Jones), we all breathe a sigh of relief.
What we have here is a slight but sharp bit of entertainment, where Hemsworth’s hunky dorkiness makes sense, as does the sudden interest by swimsuit model Priyanka Chopra in Josh’s boyish charm. Seriously, the man has a little boy’s haircut and dresses like a kid in a 50s sitcom, yet still manages to be irresistible. The tone may be tongue-in-cheek, but the way ISN’T IT ROMANTIC separates what’s good about love and what’s bad about trying to package it for a mass audience hits the mark. If it gets just a scooch preachy at the end, it saves itself by giving us a look at what happens after the big dance number is over, the satisfaction of watching a woman take charge of her life, and by giving Wilson her best role to date.