Brandon Shillingford, Contributing Writer
Rebel Wilson is an actress with an enigmatic screen presence — she floats in and out of scenes for minutes at a time, but she leaves a lasting impression that lingers with the viewer long after the credits roll.
Wilson’s effortless charisma and charm reverberates through her latest role in “Isn’t it Romantic,” a meta deconstruction of romantic comedies and the toxic messages they can send to young women. While Wilson is hilarious, the film isn’t as committed to getting laughs out of the audience as she is.
“Isn’t it Romantic” tells the story of Natalie, an Australian architect played by Wilson who lives in New York City. She is disenchanted with the notion of sweeping romance and repulsed by the ideas of love and grand gestures from the romantic comedies she adored as a child.
After getting injured in a mugging, Natalie wakes up in a version of New York that’s vastly different from the one she knew. The streets smell of lavender, flowers grace the doorsteps of every home and men who ignored her before suddenly treat her with respect and maintain eye contact.
“Isn’t it Romantic” is directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson, who helmed the critically acclaimed “The Final Girls,” another subversion of genre trope using horror as its target. Both of Strauss-Schulson’s films share many of the same qualities, for better or worse. They seek to satirize and mock their respective genres, but fall victim to the exact cliches they try to mock.
Both films also have incredibly vibrant casts with outstanding chemistry, but “Isn’t it Romantic” often fails to generate consistent laughs. Wilson is phenomenal, truly reveling in each scene. She gives the audience a character to root for, empathize and laugh with all at once.
Whenever she’s on screen, the film is at its absolute best. Throughout the second half, her world is flipped on its head, turning all of her friends into exaggerated parodies of characters seen in other romantic comedies. It’s a type of dynamic role rarely played by women in Hollywood, and it’s so refreshing. But her supporting cast doesn’t have the same depth.
Not since the likes of “The Monuments Men,” has a supporting cast been so underutilized. Talented actors like Betty Gilpin, Adam Devine and Liam Hemsworth try their hardest to make an impact, but are never given enough good material to experiment with.
Despite this, the script is cleverly written, giving its lead plenty of opportunities to shine. It’s also able to stick its landing in a finale that’s as genuinely funny as it was surprisingly poignant.
“Isn’t it Romantic” doesn’t break the mold in terms of redefining the romantic comedy, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. Although it doesn’t shock or amaze, most of it is so entertaining and self-aware that its brisk 88-minute runtime passes quickly. Before you know it, you’ll feel a little sad you didn’t spend more time in its delightful fantasy land.
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