As a child, Natalie loved romantic comedies. But her mother told her this obsession is foolish, because the sort of happy ending in those films “never happens to girls like us” – ie the vast majority of females who are not perfect-coiffed, giraffe-legged supermodels.
Adult Nat (Rebel Wilson) is therefore a cynic when it comes to love. She is firmly rooted in the reality of her job as an architect, her best friends Josh (Adam Devine, who continues the brilliant chemistry with Wilson they established in the Pitch Perfect series) and Whitney (Betty Gilpin), and life in gritty New York City. She never expects people to notice her, far less for handsome strangers to ask her out.
So when she’s knocked unconscious, she’s more than a bit surprised to wake up in a five-star-hotel-worthy public hospital staffed by doctors with movie-star looks. She’s even more shocked when she realises she is in an alternate reality where everyone is awed by her beauty, elegance and wit. NYC is now clean and safe, and her one-room apartment has become the sort of pad that belongs in Elle Decor. And then a handsome billionaire sort-of-stranger (Liam Hemsworth) asks her out – and almost instantly falls in love with her.
Yup, Nat is in her own rom-com.
Isn’t It Romantic (released on Netflix simultaneously around the world on Thursday) affectionately mocks the nonsensical nature of romcom storylines. There are first kisses in the rain, perfectly choreographed dances (the karaoke lounge remake of Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody is genius), massive apartments with perfect views, and a crime-free, garbage-free – all met with Wilson’s slightly raised eyebrow. Of course, everyone is almost supernaturally good-looking, Nat always wakes up with perfect make-up, and there’s an upbeat soundtrack of 80s and 90s pop for every scene. It’s a parody of the genre, but it also celebrates the harmless fun of such films.
Wilson is always hilarious, but that’s often because of her smarmy asides; the humour here comes mostly from her reactions to being “normal” in a “perfect” world, where foul language is bleeped out by random loud noises, and where it’s near-impossible, whatever you look like, not to have someone fall in love with you. (While Nat tries to work out what Hottie McBillionaire sees in her, Josh finds himself dating a supermodel-yoga ambassador, played by Priyanka Chopra Jonas.)
The secondary characters are also brilliant, especially in the middle romcom land section, where they take on the most ridiculous stereotypes of their roles and play them as if it were the most natural thing in the world: female colleague who is Nat’s natural sworn enemy, dressed in the most ludicrous of high heels; stereotyped gay best friend who solves all of Nat’s style issues; and a perfect love match in the form of her best guy friend, who is so much more obviously suited to her than you can tell in the real world.
Ultimately, this is a film about love, but not just boy-meets-girl-they-get-their-happily-ever-after love. The ultimate moral of the story, which is fairly prescriptive of stories written for women today, could’ve been eye-rollingly saccharine, is delivered with just enough acidity and smarts to make you smile.
This film is not going to convert anyone who sneers at romcoms for their lack of realism. But it might make closet fans a little more willing to admit how much they enjoy them. And for those of us who wear our chick-flick-loving hearts on our sleeves, it’s almost certainly going to find itself in a favourites list.