In a 1982 Frank and Ernest cartoon by Bob Thaves we first heard the idea that, sure, Fred Astaire was great, but Ginger Rogers did everything he did… backwards and in high heels. The same can be said about comedy and satire. Comedy is tough, yes, but creating really good satire is much, much tougher. It’s very easy to take the lazy way out, rely too much on silliness, and attempt the satire without having any kind of grasp on the material you’re satirizing. Sometimes, though, everything clicks, and you get a film like Isn’t It Romantic, a solid skewering of romantic comedies starring Rebel Wilson.
That’s not to say that the film’s satire is better than the comedy of at least some of the material it’s targeting—the flagship rom-com When Harry Met Sally is referenced early and often, for example—but there are so many ways that Isn’t It Romanticcould have fallen flat on its klutzy face. And, for the most part, it doesn’t.
WIlson stars as Natalie, a New York architect who was brought up believing that a white knight was never on his way, and that fairytales are best left to books by the Brothers Grimm. Her assistant Whitney (GLOW’s Betty Gilpin) spends her days watching rom-coms at her desk (she’s streaming The Wedding Singer when we’re first introduced to her). Natalie, however, (jaded from a lifetime of disappointment) shoots down the genre by walking Whitney through all the rom-com tropes.
Later, on a subway platform, Natalie is mugged and runs smack into a steel pole while escaping her attacker. When she comes to, she’s recovering in what could easily pass as Williams-Sonoma Medical Center; everything is pretty and showcase-clean, and the attending doctor makes McDreamy look like McFrumpy. Birds are singing as she walks home, twinkly symphonic swells are the soundtrack, and her apartment has transformed into something Martha Stewart might find just too darn nice. And she even has a over-the-top friendly gay neighbor/best friend now, played by the hilarious Brandon Scott Jones (TV’s The Good Place).
If all that weren’t rom-com-enough, Natalie’s real-life hottie client Blake (Liam Hemsworth) has morphed into a white knight eager to sweep her off her feet, and her colleague Josh (Adam DeVine) has found happiness, too, with swimsuit model and “yoga ambassador” Isabella (Priyanka Chopra).
From there, Isn’t It Romantic evolves into a non-stop barrage of spot-on satire, tweaking almost every cliche imaginable—from out-of-nowhere, well-choreographed musical numbers to PG-13 language and sexual content sensibilities. The script by writer/actress Erin Cardillo, with a rewrite by Dana Fox (Couples Retreat) and Katie Silberman (Netflix’s Set It Up) is charming and incisive at the same time, causing a perma-grin punctuated by fits of belly laughter. And director Todd Strauss-Schulson (who did any equally good job helming the 2015 horror satire The Final Girls) goes all out to make Isn’t It Romantic a thing of beauty.
Ironically the film trips on itself a little in the third act, falling prey to the very tropes its squashed for the better part of an hour, but you can chalk it up to irony, satire-within-satire, or just caving to the audience’s innate desire for things to work out in the end. Regardless, Wilson and Company reach the finish line without dropping the ball. Isn’t It Romantic is a home run, a slam-dunk, and though it’s not the best thing since sliced bread, it’s at least in the ballpark.