Rom-coms seem to be back in vogue at the moment and Netflix is basking in their reflected glory. Last year it gave us To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and Set It Up, both of which were greeted by enthusiastic critics and even more rapturous audiences. But its latest in the genre, Isn’t It Romantic, appears to be biting the hand that feeds it – as well as arriving just a wee bit late. After all, Valentine’s Day was a fortnight ago.
Is it romantic? Yes, after a fashion, although the tone of the title gives you an strong idea of what to expect from the film, as do its opening moments. The strains of Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman float towards you and a 12 year old is watching the rom-com of the same name, only to be told by her mother that, for people like them, real life is never that good. Fast forward 25 years, and the girl has grown up into Natalie (Rebel Wilson), a put-upon architect totally disenchanted by love and anything romantic. The only men in her life are friends – colleague Josh (Adam Devine) and neighbour Donny (Brandon Scott Jones). A mugging puts her in hospital, where she wakes up to find herself living in a rom-com: everybody is perfect, bikes are adorned with baskets laden with flowers and handsome real-life client Blake (Liam Hemsworth) is madly in love with her. In fact, every man she meets is bowled over by her charms. She hates it all and is desperate to get back to her old life.
Sound vaguely familiar? That bang on the head especially? It should do, because it’s a riff on Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty from last year, only here the target isn’t so much appearance but attitudes to romance, among women in particular. Schumer’s offering came in for a lot of criticism, much of it directed at its leading lady and, in truth, this really isn’t much better. Natalie is forever being treated like the office junior, despite being a qualified professional, and all the requests to make coffee, clear up other people’s rubbish and ask IT to repair the printer are deeply old hat, hackneyed and unconvincing. Yet director Todd Strauss-Schulson is utterly determined to squeeze in every single sexist gag he can: that they’re out of place, deeply unfunny and, at times, little short of offensive, is neither here nor there.
What is intended as a spoof romantic comedy, one designed to affectionately send up the genre, is crying out for some wit and lightness of touch. As it stands, it’s cumbersome, obvious from start to finish and short on laughs – this is, after all, supposed to be a comedy, with or without the rom. Fans of romantic comedies will raise a chuckle here or there, but will also be forgiven for thinking their favourite movies deserve better. Despite some big chorus numbers, there’s also the sense of this being a budget version of a bigger movie. The casting of Wilson and Hemsworth gives the game away, with only Glow’s Betty Gilpin given a real chance to shine: in the real world, her character is a dowdy rom-com fan, while in the fantasy one she’s made up to the nines and hard as nails. We just don’t see anywhere near enough of her.
Gilpin aside, Isn’t It Romantic is simply an OK attempt at a rom-com parody. It’s been done before, no doubt it will be done again – and hopefully better. Ultimately, it’s not really romantic at all.
Freda Cooper | [rating=2]
Comedy, Romance | Netflix, 28 February (2019) | Netflix | Dir. Todd Strauss-Schulson | Rebel Wilson, Liam Hemsworth, Adam Devine, Betty Gilpin, Priyanka Chopra, Brandon Scott Jones.