Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson
Starring Rebel Wilson, Adam Devine, Betty Gilpin, Priyanka Chopra, Brandon Scott Jones, and Liam Hemsworth
Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13 for mild kissy times, sexy sax solos, and shirtless Hemsworths
by Jaime Davis, The Fixer
Hollywood doesn’t typically make big-budget romantic comedies about plus-sized women (or men), people of color, people with regular lives, or any kind of disabilities. I think we can agree that historically your standard rom-com fare has featured gorgeous sample-sized white folks above-average-ly good at their fast-paced jobs with above-average wit who live in above-average apartments and work in above-average office spaces. There are always exceptions to this, for sure, but for the most part, rom-coms are meant to be aspirational with a dusting of fantastical glitter to remind us we ain’t never gonna get it, at least not like this. So why do I watch so much of this shit? I’m kind of a walking encyclopedia of the dumbest, romanciest, fluffiest fluff that’s been released. If there was a quizzo night exclusively on romantic comedies from the modern era, I would win. I would win by like one million fawfillion points! True fact. I could teach a course on romantic comedies - like AP RomCom or IB RomCom HL (for my International Baccalaureate friends), or FMA 236: Romantic Comedies 1990-2018. I even like rom-coms from other countries like Monsoon Wedding, Love Me If You Dare, Priceless, L’auberge espagnole, and Les poupées russes. And because of all of this, I have a very high tolerance for rom-com bullshit. I have watched Something Borrowed at least 25 times. Willingly! But I do have my limits - the only movie I’ve ever walked out of in the theater is Raising Helen. Turd alert!
Which is why I felt the need to review Isn’t It Romantic for Moviejawn, even though I was ready to boycott this mess back in November when its star Rebel Wilson proudly declared she was the “first-ever plus-sized girl to be the star of a romantic comedy.” Umm, nah girl. Don’t even try it. My Twitter feed appropriately crashed and burned that day, and everyone and their grandma called her out on her obvi mistake. Rebel initially went on the defensive, angering the shit outta folks even more, before eventuallyyyyy apologizing. Upon thinking and thinking and thinking about it, (I may watch a lotta rom-coms, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think smart stuff!) I decided I wanted to see the film and review it, because perhaps this film’s initial greenlight and eventual production hints at increased inclusivity in Hollywood? And also because no one can say anything better on the subject than Mo’Nique in her Twitter response to Rebel’s shenanigans.
Mo’Nique can speak from experience - her 2006 rom-com Phat Girlz tells the story of two plus-sized women who both find love in different ways. And note it came out 13 years ago. Ahem. So. But before Phat Girlz there were others, one in particular I’d like to tell you about. Let me magically whisk you away to…
Delaware. 1995. I was a sophomore in high school, or something like that. My best friends and I were super excited to catch Waiting to Exhale at our local movie theater - we came for the Whitney Houston (The Bodyguard was seriously my reason to live for the whole of 1993) and stayed for the powerhouse performance by Angela Bassett. But it was the budding romance storyline between Loretta Devine, who by Hollywood standards was considered plus-size in 1995, and Gregory Hines that gave me life. They are just sooooo cute in this! Part of my love for WTE stems from the solid chemistry between the two, but mostly it’s Loretta Devine’s portrayal of lonely, jilted Gloria that has kept me glued to this movie for the past 14 years. Even at 16 years old, I felt a particular kinship with her character. I’ve never been what anyone would call skinny, and growing up with a step parent who had always been naturally thin caused some issues for me. I was told from an early age that the way I looked was all wrong: too big, not the norm, and I had to change. I was made to feel like I shouldn’t eat - either at all, or at least not certain things. But hey, bada bing bada boop, I’m Italian! And this Italian loves to e-a-t! So adolescence to early adulthood was beyond challenging. It was heavily implied that no one would ever love me because of the way I looked, a message I took to heart every day as I shyly and shamefully went about my daily life. I realize this message came, ultimately, from a place of love…but its execution only served to stunt me socially and emotionally until I was about 30. The representation of Gloria as a woman who was unapologetic, could not only find love, but could also be found extremely attractive by someone was so completely refreshing, and I will hold this movie in my heart forever because of that. (But, I mean, Waiting to Exhale is a classic. Everything about it is perfect. That’s for another article, though).
I’m in no way implying Waiting to Exhale is the first film to feature a plus-sized character in a romantic situation, it’s just a pivotal film for me personally, related to Hollywood’s reluctance to feature diversity in its leading roles. Other rom-com-y films I love with more inclusive leads are Just Wright (even if Common is wooden af I ship his Scott and Queen Latifah’s Leslie so hard), Beauty Shop (another Queen Latifah film), Trainwreck (though I’m not sure I would categorize Amy Schumer as plus-sized and I think she’s a beautiful woman, she doesn’t necessarily match traditional Hollywood-prescribed notions of beauty), and, most recently, Melissa McCarthy’s Life of the Party. While romance takes a backseat in the latter, McCarthy gets involved with a much younger hunk-a-junk and the film, to its credit, makes no mention of size being an issue for the character’s sense of self-worth or how others view her.
OMG, LIKE HI JAIME, YOU ARE RAMBLING. Okay, okay! So what does this mean for Rebel Wilson and her Isn’t It Romantic rom-com farce? Well, not a whole lot considering it’s just a mediocre rom-com lightly poking fun at other rom-coms, within a rom-com. Mind. Blown. Our heroine, Natalie (Wilson) was taught from an early age that her size made her different and life wasn’t going to turn out the way she might think - i.e. she doesn’t deserve love and happiness. So she grows up thinking love is a joke, and has no time for like allllllllll them fun rom-coms I rambled on about up there ^^^. Her trusty work wife, Whitney (a goofy yet loveable Betty Gilpin) has a habit of watching said rom-coms, like The Wedding Singer, during work hours. Her bestie, Josh (Adam Devine) clearly wants to get way out the friend zone but clueless Natalie is clueless. And she’s like that with a lot of things in her life - she lets everyone walk all over her, preferring to stay in the comfy confines of invisibility.
That is, until a nasty knock on the head has her trapped in what appears to be an actual romantic comedy, one in which Manhattan has morphed into a fairy-tale city of lovers strolling in parks, a gentrified coffee shop on every corner, and brightly painted subway stations (the map of Manhattan in the subway is even in the shape of a heart). Birds fly in heart-shaped flocks. People smile at her and ask if she needs help. Even Natalie’s neighborhood, initially depicted with numerous bodegas and halal carts, now looks like a set from Pretty Little Liars’ perfect town of Rosewood, complete with more florists and bridal shops than any engaged woman could ever want or need. Her next door neighbor has magically transformed into a kind of gay genie, overly flamboyant with no real wants or desires of his own except to clothe and support and coddle and grant wishes to our intrepid Natalie (see Rupert Everett in My Best Friend’s Wedding). Her apartment is now like, insanely CB2-ed the eff out (see It’s Complicated, The Holiday, Something’s Gotta Give) and hot Australian hottie Liam Hemsworth, who wouldn’t normally give Natalie the time of day is now paying her a major amount of attention (refer to Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!). At work, Whitney is now her mortal enemy, as opposed to her supportive bestie (thanks, 13 Going on 30) and Josh is about to marry the wrong woman - a thoroughly enjoyable Priyanka Chopra as swimsuit model slash yoga ambassador (shades of both Just Friends and Something Borrowed). Throughout its running time, Isn’t It Romantic makes it very clear it’s in on all the jokes and re-hashing of tropes and hey, this is okay! But…I didn’t get it. For all of it’s grandstanding, I couldn’t tell what the film wanted to be. Pure spoof? Enlightened fairy tale? And for all it’s wink-winks at the audience, especially about the lack of diversity in rom-coms, only one major character in the film is a person of color. So…what are you trying to say, movie?
That doesn’t mean it’s not fun. If you’re not looking for depth and want something light and fun (like I do, about 87.54% of the time), Isn’t It Romantic has its share of laugh out loud, or at least giggle a little moments. And there are not one but two musical numbers! If you’re into that kind of thing, which you know, I am. I enjoyed the chemistry between Wilson and Devine in Pitch Perfect 2 - their Bumper and Fat Amy coupling was pretty damn fute (funny cute) - so one of the testaments to this film is its smart casting choices. But really, and huh boy I can’t believe I’m about to say this, the person who steals every scene is…
Liam. Hemsworth. Yes yes, the other one, that dude you all forgot was in The Hunger Games, jeez oh man he’s silly funny in this. He made me laugh more times in Isn’t It Romantic than I did at all during Fifty Shades Freed, and that’s truly saying something. He sings a little, he dances a little, he’s got his shirt off a whole lot, he says the dumbest shit ever and makes weird faces and for some reason…it works. I dunno how, you guys, but it does.
Look, this is a Valentine’s Day release. Rebel knows this game well (a few years ago she starred in How to Be Single, another rom-com released at the same damn time). If you want pure joy from minute one to minute end, go see The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (trust me, it’s gooooood). But if you, like me, enjoy silly romance every now and then (Editor’s Note: she enjoys it way more than “every now and then”), Isn’t It Romantic is a solid choice. Just don’t expect it to revolutionize the way in which Hollywood chooses to depict modern relationships. Don’t expect much, in general, and you’ll fall in love.