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‘Isn’t It Romantic’ makes fun of classic rom-coms but never lives up to them

Once Natalie (Rebel Wilson) leaves reality, a man who once belittled her (Liam Hemsworth) egins to fawn over her in "Isn't It Romantic."

Once Natalie (Rebel Wilson) leaves reality, a man who once belittled her (Liam Hemsworth) egins to fawn over her in "Isn't It Romantic." | New Line Cinema

The real world would look a lot different, and not a bit giddy, if it adhered to the rules of romantic comedies, in which fashion is always on point, love conquers all and interrupted weddings lead not to fistfights but happily-ever-afters.

There is nothing wrong with liking romantic comedies, of course. It’s a genre no more ridiculous than action or western, horror or fantasy. Its tropes are no sillier, its escapism no more indulgent.

Good genre satires recognize that our pleasures in genre aren’t by default guilty ones, poking fun while simultaneously employing those same tropes in clever ways. Take “Scream” and “Hot Fuzz.” They aren’t just brilliant deconstructions of horror and action movies respectively, they’re great examples of those very things.

“Isn’t It Romantic” only manages one part of that equation, satirizing all the hallmarks of rom-coms without meaningfully celebrating them. The problem isn’t that it pokes fun at romantic comedies, it’s that it itself isn’t a terribly good one.

Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is a girl who knows better than to fall for rom-coms. She doesn’t see herself in them, for one thing, because she looks so unlike the stereotypical romantic leading lady. She has internalized that lack of on-screen representation, and it has slaughtered her self-esteem. Despite being an architect at a firm in New York, she allows herself to be demeaned by co-workers, professionally dismissed and sent on coffee runs. She’s so down on herself, she doesn’t even notice that her co-worker Josh (Adam Devine, buzzing with the goofy energy of a glee club Jack Black) is entirely smitten with her.

Then, during one spectacularly bad day, Natalie receives a cosmic bonk on the head. When she wakes from her coma, it’s to a world dictated by rom-com illogic. Her hair and makeup are always perfect, the city smells like lavender instead of urine, birds fly in heart-shaped flocks and strangers break into perfectly choreographed musical numbers at a moment’s notice. She’s no longer invisible to men but fawned over, even by the impossibly handsome businessman who had earlier treated her like an intern (played with an excess of winking lunkheaded charm by Liam Hemsworth, one of the film’s bright spots).

The rom-com send-up turns into a lesson for Natalie, helping her to build up the self-respect she needs to feel she’s worthy of respect and love. There’s a kernel of a good critique in there somewhere, buried under all the technicolor and taffeta, about the genre’s lack of inclusion and the warped way little girls grow up to see themselves as women thanks to unrealistic beauty standards.

Except “Isn’t It Romantic” doesn’t hold itself up to the same standard it demands of the genre, subjecting Wilson repeatedly to fat-focused slapstick — ramming her, at one point, with a runaway food cart and having its owner comment, “You’re built like a cement truck!” It wants us to celebrate Wilson’s inclusion in the genre while still treating her body like a joke for cheap laughs. Wilson’s impenetrable deadpan snark doesn’t help the audience get any closer to a character seemingly incapable of authenticity and vulnerability even during the emotional climax, where she unironically compares herself to a parking garage.

There are no plaudits, either, for the regressive love story. What good is a lesson in the importance of loving yourself if it’s only imparted in service of hooking up with a “friendzoned” colleague?

Maybe that would all be more forgivable if the satire were clever, but “Isn’t It Romantic” doesn’t pay homage so much as shallowly references. Remember this outfit from “Pretty Woman,” it asks? How about that diner scene in “When Harry Met Sally”? Hey, remember the bad karaoke in “My Best Friend’s Wedding”? Weren’t those movies great?

Yes, and you’re better served watching any of those instead.

‘Isn’t It Romantic’

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New Line Cinema presents a film directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson and written by Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox and Katie Silberman. Rated PG-13 (for language, some sexual material, and a brief drug reference). Running time: 88 minutes. Opens Wednesday at local theaters.