I was going to take the kids to see Alita: Battle Angel last weekend, but a tremor in the Force diverted me to Isn't It Romantic. Perhaps needless to say, the kids declined to accompany me. Their loss.
Rebel Wilson, best known as a co-star of the Pitch Perfect trilogy, stars as Natalie. An employee at a New York architectural firm, she was raised on the wisdom of her Australian mom that neither of them are Julia Roberts. Nevertheless, Natalie, like many girls around at least the English-speaking world, has been raised on the Cinderella paradigm, and its modern canonical interpretation, 1990's Pretty Woman. Natalie's cynicism about her own prospects are tested and then some when she finds herself transported to an alternate universe which is one gigantic romcom complete with all the requisite cliches that she's come to hate.
Natalie's immersion into an actual celluloid genre isn't the first such journey for director Todd Strauss-Schulson, who also directed 2015's send-up of horror movies, The Final Girls, which also featured Wilson's Pitch Perfect co-star Adam Devine. Wilson and Devine have developed a chemistry together, but Wilson's character, Natalie, can't see her coworker Josh (Devine), as he's eclipsed by hunky zillionaire Blake (Liam Hemsworth). In this alternate universe, Natalie finds the unattainable Blake not only within her reach, but annoyingly so, as she discovers the Twilight Zone-ish ramifications of having "every girl's dream."
Strauss-Schulson mercilessly skewers every romcom cliche, including a mercurial and excessively gay sidekick (Brandon Scott Jones) there to advise on love and fashion, and a nerdy office pal (Betty Gilpin) who is herself addicted to romance movies. I would be tempted to say that Jones and Gilpin actually have the best parts in the movie, except that their roles require them to be almost overbearingly stereotypical, but I guess that's the point.
There are constant references and callbacks to the rom-com genre, especially to Pretty Woman itself, even in Natalie's alternate universe wardrobe. But is Isn't It Romantic's refutation of the Cinderella Syndrome really as cutting as it purports to be? I don't think I'm being necessarily spoilery by revealing that indeed things do turn out pretty good for Natalie in both universes, because ultimately the film is exactly the same kind of romantic comedy it claims to reject.
But that's okay. Movie characters and audiences alike deserve a happy ending every now and then, given all the horror and mayhem in the other auditoriums at the multiplex. Plus, I like the fact that the film does have a message that's a little more subtle than even it pretends to have, and while I generally dislike extemporaneous musical sequences, Wilson performs a karaoke scene that's a winner. I'm not quite as happy about a later song and dance number, which feels oddly tacked-on and incongruous with Natalie's return to reality. Even so, Isn't It Romantic is a welcome respite from most of the ponderously serious cinematic fare currently playing.