20 Mar 2019

Review – Isn't it Romantic? Sorry Netflix, not remotely

From At The Movies, 7:32 pm on 20 March 2019

Can Netflix-made movies match the undoubted success of their serial dramas? Simon Morris was curious to check out their highly-touted satirical romcom Isn't It Romantic, which stars Aussie actors Rebel Wilson and Luke Hemsworth.

Simon Morris: The premise looks promising. It opens on 12-year-old Natalie glued to a video of Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts. Her mother, a slumming Jennifer Saunders, pooh-poohs her enthusiasm.

Isn't It Romantic is an affectionate spoof on romcoms – starring Aussie stars Rebel Wilson and Luke Hemsworth.

25 years later, Natalie – now played by the not-for-all tastes Rebel Wilson – has taken this cynicism to heart.

The Aussie blonde comedienne is best known as Fat Amy in the Pitch Perfect movies, where, in between singing and making a show of herself, she usually finds love in the shape of Adam Devine. And here he is again.

Encouraged by her work-mates, Natalie decides to be a bit more outgoing and even smiles at the friendly chap on the New York subway train. He turns out not to be as friendly as she thought.

Stop me – or rather stop Rebel – if you've heard this story, or something like it, before.

A bang on the head later and suddenly Natalie wakes up – no, not in the land of Oz, but in an equally fantastic world, where everyone is good-looking, and everywhere is art-directed to a stand-still.

In a daze, Natalie goes home to her seedy flat only to discover it's been converted into something out of Sex and the city, while her work-place is full of people hanging on her every word.

A world of perfection, in other words. Naturally, she panics.

And where, we wonder, is the glamorous Prince Charming in her new life? It's fellow Australian Luke Hemsworth, playing a millionaire bachelor with a thing for the word "beguiling".

Natalie realises she's in her worst nightmare – a real-life rom-com. One in which she's not even allowed to swear.

So now what? Clearly Isn't It Romantic was planned as the romantic comedy equivalent of the tongue in cheek Scream movies – part love-letter, part parody of a routine format.

So what went wrong, and why did the film end up buried on Netflix, rather than getting a respectable cinema screening? You'd think the romcom would be a genre ripe for the taking off.

But is it, though? Part of the appeal of a two-hanky romance is audiences already know how artificial it is, they're in on it.

And the good ones play with the conventions and surprise us into going along with them.

All the elements are here - they even call out the clichés of these movies - right down to Rebel Wilson doing a full production karaoke version of a Whitney Houston number. But they don't add up to anything.

Isn't It Romantic can barely fill out the hour and a half of its duration, so at the end, it marks time with a long version of another '80s number.

The upshot is that, if this is the standard of most Netflix one-off movies, I don't think Steven Spielberg and Mike Leigh need worry about undue competition at award-time.

Isn't it romantic? Not remotely.

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