Isn’t It Romantic
PLOT A cynical bachelorette becomes trapped in what appears to be a Hollywood rom-com.
CAST Rebel Wilson, Chris Hemsworth, Brandon Scott Jones
RATED PG-13 (adult humor)
BOTTOM LINE A sassy-sweet sendup with Wilson making the most of her first major leading role.
There’s something radical about “Isn’t It Romantic,” starring Rebel Wilson as a cynical single who finds herself suddenly living in a Hollywood rom-com. It’s a meta-movie that makes jokes about other films, general cliches and even editing techniques, though that’s not new — Mel Brooks and Monty Python did it 40 years ago. What makes this gentle spoof a boundary-pusher is Wilson, an Australian actress with a self-deprecating charm and a gift for off-color humor. Wilson is also what the fashion industry calls plus size although, to its credit, “Isn’t It Romantic” never once mentions her weight.
Wilson isn’t the first such actress to play a romantic lead, though the fact that she recently claimed to be — forgetting about Queen Latifah and others — only proves what a rarity she is. Wilson plays Natalie, whose childhood fondness for “Pretty Woman” was crushed by her embittered mother (Jennifer Saunders, “Absolutely Fabulous”). Look in the mirror, says mom: “Someone might marry you for a visa, that’s about it.” As an adult living in New York, Natalie oozes cynicism — a cover for her insecurity and feelings of being invisible to men.
As in so many rom-coms, including last year’s “I Feel Pretty” and this year’s “What Men Want,” it’s a bump on the head that alters our heroine’s reality. Upon waking, Natalie is in a world of impossible beauty: Her humdrum workplace is suddenly a hip loft, her dingy apartment is now a penthouse and her cranky neighbor has become her gay best friend (Brandon Scott Jones, in a winning performance that both spoofs and humanizes a stereotype). In keeping with the genre’s subtly damaging messages to women, Natalie’s once-supportive co-worker Whitney (Betty Gilpin) must now be her enemy — one of the shrewder observations from this movie’s three female writers.
Liam Hemsworth, of “The Hunger Games,” has fun as Blake, a handsome ka-billionaire who begins showering Natalie with idiotically romantic gestures (he writes his number on rose petals), while Adam Devine plays Josh, Natalie’s co-worker and her Real Mr. Right. Wilson and Devine made a lovely romantic pair in 2012’s “Pitch Perfect,” and they recreate their shy chemistry here to good effect. Priyanka Chopra pokes fun at herself as Isabella, a gorgeous “yoga ambassador” who nearly steals Josh away.
Todd Strauss-Schulson’s directing doesn’t have a ton of zing; some of the jokes land flat. Wilson shines, though, making this Valentine’s Day-timed release a pleasant surprise.