‘Isn’t it Romantic’ debunks the rom-com

Film acknowledges and embraces the tropes present in the genre

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"Isn't It Romantic" stars Rebel Wilson as a dissatisfied architect flung into an alternate universe ruled by the tropes of the romantic comedy genre. 

Courtesy Wikipedia

As an homage to the romantic comedy, the new film “Isn’t It Romantic” — released the day before Valentine’s — provides a highlight reel of favorite scenes from the most beloved of the genre. In reinventing Julia Roberts’ iconic white outfit in “Pretty Woman,” the “I’ll have what she’s having” orgasm scene from ‘When Harry Met Sally’ and the apartment makeover from “13 Going on 30,” the film reminds the audience what makes those movies lovable. However, the lack of originality in “Isn’t it Romantic” causes the audience to reminisce over past favorites instead of applauding the new film for its own humor and uniqueness.   

Living in a tiny New York City loft as an architect waiting for her big break, Natalie (Rebel Wilson) introduces the audience to a life of feeling invisible. Ever since watching the aforementioned romantic comedies as a child, she has been constantly reminded that she is simply not the type of person who could receive love, happiness or any of the other wonderful things that happen to the heroines in those movies. When Natalie opens herself up to a potential chance, she is once again sorely disappointed — this time mugged and knocked out. When she wakes up, Natalie’s world has been transformed into the pinnacle of the romantic comedy. 

While succeeding in paying tribute to the highlights of the genre, “Isn’t It Romantic” also comments on its problematic aspects. In particular, it critiques the tropes such as the aspirationally-challenged gay best friend and the competitive nature of women in the same workplace. In the alternate universe, these same stereotypes that Natalie once criticized have come alive. Natalie’s neighbor, Donny (Brandon Scott Jones) assumes the gay best friend’s personna, eager to help Natalie figure out her love life by giving fashion advice while sipping on fruity cocktails. However, his character only seems to serve as a bubbly friend who supports Natalie’s romantic pursuits, while lacking professional or personal aspirations of his own. 

Jones owns this role, fully embracing the stereotypes of what a typical gay best friend looks like, sounds like and cares about. However, his charisma leaves the audience wanting to know more about his character’s career pursuits and personal life. The film might have been a more satisfying watch had it portrayed that extra layer of personhood by subtly dropping hints of a successful career or nodding to his own romantic relationships while he gives Natalie advice. By not attending to these issues, the film confirms that Donny is not worthy of his own plot or even his own life. 

“Isn’t It Romantic” seems to convey that it is impossible to reinvent the genre to cater to reality, including through increasing advocacy for the LGBTQ community. Natalie’s previous criticisms that this role sets gay rights back rings true as the audience begins to poke holes in this poorly represented archetype. 

The film also exposes the age-old misconception that women in the same workplace must be opposed against each other, fueled with jealousy and a drive to beat the other out. Natalie’s genuine and tender friendship with her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) is manipulated by this alternate universe to convey a sense of cutthroat competition. Despite the entertainment provided by this competition, the audience wants to see more of their loving dynamic, craving to see a powerful female friendship which could defy the norms of the genre. 

In another effort to honor the genre, there are instances of unadulterated fun and imagination sprinkled throughout the movie, especially through musical numbers. In one scene, a casual karaoke night becomes a lively performance, complete with sassy backup singers and choreographed dances. The audience is reminded that romantic comedies not only encourage this imagination but further create a platform where creativity can run wild. The audience is free to sit back and forget the conflict involved in the plot as they feast their eyes on a visual celebration of love and fun.

Although the film does not actively work to change the misrepresentations of romantic comedies, it creates a particular sense of vulnerability and awareness of the downfalls of the genre through Natalie’s honest acknowledgement. In this way, the audience can enjoy the pure fun of the movie without feeling guilty about perpetuating these stereotypes. Rightfully so, “Isn’t It Romantic” does not take itself too seriously, managing to make its audience laugh and swoon while emphasizing its lack of reality.

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