Isn’t It Romantic
Permit me to say that this film is the first great cinematic surprise of 2019.
Let me begin by confessing that I would have never seen this film had my son and daughter-in-law not prodded me to watch it with them. Given that I hadn’t seen them since we returned from Costa Rica last month, I decided to make the sacrifice to enjoy their company. I ended up loving this film, and now I have to endure my daughter-in-law’s caustic derision. So let me swallow my pride and note that Isn’t It Romantic is a sublimely funny, cynic satire of the way romance has been displayed in films for decades.
To give you an idea of what awaits you, let me refer to the beginning of the film where a ten-year-old girl named Natalie is watching Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman with her mother. Mom is played in magnificent style by Jennifer Saunders who you have undoubtedly previously seen playing Edina in the splendidly imaginative Absolutely Fabulous TV series and subsequent films. While Natalie is entranced as she watches Ms. Roberts float in a tub filled with soap suds under the watchful eye of Richard Gere, mother sits on a couch drinking an ice cream float to which she has added red wine from a box. As Natalie looks glowingly at the film, mother responds (and I paraphrase), “They don’t make movies about you and me dear, as it would require them to add Prozac to the popcorn.”
The film quickly shifts to 25 years later where you see Natalie working in an office where she is treated as a spare tire. Rebel Wilson is the adult Natalie, and the fact that she is overweight leads to colleagues, both male and female, to ask her to function as an office servant.
Set aside your concerns that this film will be little more than a light-weight story about Natalie failing in love with a handsome man. To the contrary, the film has a diabolically clever format working under the surface as it finds a way to artistically dismiss classic romantic cinema in a fashion that will leave you repeatedly laughing.
More to the point, as Natalie tries to make sense of her life, she is mugged getting off the subway where she turns and runs head first into a pole which results in a head injury that confines her to a trauma center at a hospital. While intensely sedated, she imagines that she is living in a Julia Roberts movie world where she is the only person who hasn’t changed. You will love every scene as you watch her interact in an environment where men and women are recreations of both Roberts and Gere.
In particular, Liam Hemsworth, Priyanka Chopra and Adam Devine make valuable contributions to this socially relevant film. In reverse order, Mr. Devine plays Josh, a coworker who was attracted to Natalie before her accident. She had largely dismissed his approaches as meaningless, and his changed existence in her dream world led her to regret her arrogant conduct.
Mr. Hemsworth, an incredibly handsome man who you probably remember from his performances in the Hunger Games movies as well as the overlooked The Dressmaker (2016), appears here as a guy who dismissed Natalie in real life only to become a suitor in her romantic adventure. He is fun to watch as a guy who insulted her before her accident and became little more than a shallow love toy in her romantic imagination.
And I must point out the performance of Ms. Chopra as the beautiful Isabella, a picture of whom is on a billboard outside of Natalie’s office. She appears in Natalie’s romantic hallucination as a shallow, captivating woman who seeks to marry Josh by throwing a party at what she refers to as her “modest” property in the Hamptons.
Lastly, I would be remiss not to point out the performance of Brandon Scott Jones as Donny, Natalie’s gay neighbor in her apartment building. He gives one of the most astonishingly funny performances as a flamboyantly gay man in her romantic world and it in many ways rivals the fantastic performance of the Oscar-nominated Richard E. Grant’s for his performance this year in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Rebel Wilson has never been better as she interacts with other actors to both mock cinematic historical romance and themselves. In the process, there are some extraordinarily song and dance numbers that will make you silently wish you could be transported to the screen where you could rock and roll with Ms. Wilson and her cohorts.
This is a film that will take you on an adventure that will leave you shaking your head with delight. To put it in my daughter-in-law’s words: “Please Pappy, don’t ever again infer that you know more about movies than me!”