Rebel Wilson gets to have her cake and eat it, too, in “Isn’t It Romantic,” a formula romantic comedy that also is a parody of formulaic romantic comedies.
Wilson, the Australian comic relief of the “Pitch Perfect” series, stars here as Natalie, who grew up watching romantic comedies and having her happily-ever-after dreams shattered by her disapproving mum (Jennifer Saunders, in a too-brief cameo). Cut to today, and Natalie lives in a crappy apartment in a rundown New York neighborhood, and is an architect and resident doormat in a shabby architectural firm, which at the moment is trying to woo a handsome client, Blake (Liam Hemsworth).
Natalie tells her romance-obsessed assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) that romantic comedies are rubbish, and decries that they’re filled with such cliches as the mincing gay best friend and the bitchy female office competition. Meanwhile, Natalie spectacularly fails to notice that her office best friend Josh (Adam Devine) is mooning over her.
One evening, Natalie makes eye contact with a hot guy on the subway — who, it turns out, is only trying to steal her purse. Natalie fights ferociously, but ends up whacking her head into a pillar. When she wakes up in the hospital, she slowly realizes everything is different: New York smells like lavender rather than poop, and hot guys are falling all over themselves to impress her.
“I’m in a [bleep]ing romantic comedy!” she finally yells out. “And it’s [bleep]ing PG-13!”
Sure enough, Natalie is being swooned over by Blake, but when they seem to consummate their relationship, things immediately cut to the next day and “good morning, beautiful!” Meanwhile, Tiffany has turned into an angry rival, Natalie’s neighbor Donny (Brandon Scott Jones) has become a flaming font of “Queer Eye” inspiration and Josh has found a new love, the impossibly beautiful “yoga ambassador” Isabella (played by the impossibly beautiful Priyanka Chopra).
The script — written by Erin Cardillo, with a strong rewrite by rom-com veterans Dana Fox (“What Happens in Vegas”) and Katie Silberman (“Set It Up”) — borrows heavily from “Pretty Woman” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” with references to “When Harry Met Sally…” and “Jerry Maguire,” among others, thrown in for good measure. The cliches run thick and fast, but they work because (as the cliche goes) all cliches have a kernel of truth in them.
Director Todd Strauss-Schulson (“A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas”) plays up Wilson’s outsized personality and her willingness to sacrifice dignity for a good joke. He also deploys Wilson’s rapport with Devine, established in the “Pitch Perfect” films, to good effect. And, when all else fails, he can spring up with a charmingly ridiculous musical number, such as when Natalie tries her hand at karaoke and lands in a Whitney Houston-inspired dance routine.
“Isn’t It Romantic” works with ruthless efficiency, getting Wilson and the cast through the story quickly, living out the same romantic-comedy tropes it mocks, and never dwelling on any humorous scenario too long. There’s no Judd Apatow-style piling on of ad-libbed jokes, and the movie clocks in at a rapid 84 minutes — exactly what this funny bur derivative material deserves.
‘Isn’t It Romantic’
Opens Wednesday, February 13, in theaters everywhere. Rated PG-13 for language, some sexual material and a brief drug reference. Running time: 84 minutes.