The premise of Isn’t It Romantic is similar to last year’s I Feel Pretty in that both involve blondes getting bonked on the head and waking up in a fantasy version of Manhattan. In I Feel Pretty, Amy Schumer’s head injury led her to believe she was thin and gorgeous. In Isn’t It Romantic, Rebel Wilson’s concussion sends her to live in a romantic-comedy world, one where she has a sassy gay best friend and an absurdly spacious apartment, and where it’s always sunny except when a rain-drenched kiss is called for. Both movies have upbeat morals about self-esteem for viewers, but the newer film has a better idea of what to do with its premise.
Natalie (Wilson), an assistant architect, is on the record as not being a fan of rom-coms, so she finds it unsettling to be living in one. (She also hates that since her rom-com is apparently PG-13, her F-bombs are always “bleeped” by, say, a nearby truck backing up.) Her neighbor, Donny (Brandon Scott Jones), whom she barely knew yesterday, is now her constant companion, an over-the-top queer stereotype. At work, her friend Whitney (Betty Gilpin) is now her bitter enemy because women in the workplace have to hate each other in rom-coms. Natalie’s platonic friend Josh (Adam Devine) is the right man for her, but she doesn’t notice him because a hunky rich Australian (Liam Hemsworth) has inexplicably taken a liking to her. They met, of course, when his limo bumped into her on the street.
The gags mocking rom-coms are astute and funny, perhaps cathartic coming from a trio of writers (Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman) whose credits include such genre exercises as How to Be Single, Couples Retreat, The Wedding Date, and Set It Up. Plot tropes are playfully teased, and director Todd Strauss-Schulson (A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas) fills his magical, love-centered version of New York with visual cues: The attorney ads in the subway that used to say “INJURED?” now say “SMITTEN?”; the “See something? Say something” poster now reads “See someone? Say something!” and urges people to strike up conversations with potential soulmates; a map reveals that the island of Manhattan itself is now heart-shaped. The whole thing is under 90 minutes, and Natalie is in the rom-com world by minute 15 — quick and to the point, that’s how we like our high-concept comedies.
As enjoyable as the riffs on rom-com cliches are, the film’s best attributes are its positive messages for young women. Natalie, who sneers at rom-com happily-ever-afters, ends up with one herself, but it’s not because she finds a man; it’s because she learns to love herself. Wilson’s self-deprecating humor is relatable and endearing, not pathetic, and she supported by a keen group of actors (including Jennifer Saunders as her mother, seen in flashback). Come for the impromptu musical numbers and Pretty Woman references; stay for the cheerful lessons about confidence and self-esteem.
(Note: The funniest, sharpest, most savage parody of romantic comedies is still They Came Together.)