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Love actually – ‘Isn’t It Romantic’

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While the heyday of the romantic comedy has passed, there’s no disputing that the genre is still a significant part of the cinematic whole. Sure, there aren’t as many big-screen rom-coms as there once were, but the folks at Netflix have embraced them in a big way.

Suffice it to say, rom-coms aren’t going anywhere.

That’s why even though it might feel like a bit of a late arrival, “Isn’t It Romantic” still works. Yes, the sorts of films being targeted aren’t necessarily at the forefront of the cultural consciousness like they once were, but there’s no doubt that the tropes of the form still serve as prominent pop shorthand.

It doesn’t quite have the satiric bite that you might expect – largely because of a readily apparent affection for the source material. Basically, this movie tries to have it both ways, attempting to subvert conventions while at the same time embracing them. And while it isn’t wholly successful in that effort, the end result is still a solidly entertaining movie.

Natalie (Rebel Wilson, “Pitch Perfect 3”) is an architect with a lifelong aversion to romantic comedies thanks to a childhood conversation with her mom (Jennifer Saunders, “Patrick”). She’s a struggling architect and VERY single, with a tiny apartment and a combative jerk of a neighbor named Donny (Brandon Scott Jones, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”). She’s got a few friends at the office – her rom-com-loving assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin, TV’s “GLOW”) and coworker Josh (Adam Devine, “Game Over, Man!”) – but no one else really respects her, a point driven home one day after her effort to present to big-deal billionaire client Blake (Liam Hemsworth, “The Duel”) is completely dismissed.

But everything changes for Natalie one fateful night. She’s the victim of a mugging and winds up knocking herself unconscious. When she awakes in the hospital, things are … different. Everyone is friendly and very attractive. The city is clean and sweet-smelling, packed with bridal shops and florists. Her apartment is massive and meticulously appointed.

She’s in a romantic comedy.

Blake the billionaire is now utterly enamored with her (and also Australian). She’s now the star architect at her firm, but Whitney is now Natalie’s bitter rival. Donny has become her omnipresent gay sidekick. Only Josh is largely unchanged, but even that gets upended when he has a lifesaving meet-cute with a supermodel/yoga ambassador named Isabella (Priyanka Chopra, TV’s “Quantico”) and winds up falling for her.

All Natalie wants is to get back to her real life, because while there are plenty of things about this new world that are attractive, none of it feels true. But the only way for her to undo what has been done is to figure out what really matters.

“Isn’t It Romantic” tries to walk a fine line between commenting on romantic comedy and actually BEING a romantic comedy. It isn’t a complete success – things get a little clunky at times, and the tone of the film wavers a bit – but for the most part, it works. It doesn’t bite quite as hard as something like, say, “They Came Together,” but it gets its digs in. The big difference is that those digs clearly come from a place of love; that love undermines the satire somewhat, but also adds a layer of engaging charm. It’s well-made and witty, filled with sight gags and knowing nods.

(Oh, and the production numbers are a delight.)

The glue holding it all together is Rebel Wilson. She’s ideally suited for a role like this one; she’s got the prerequisite combination of solid timing and physical comedy chops necessary to serve as the lynchpin of a story like this. She’s able to broadly wink at the audience while also committing totally to the bit. It’s not nearly as easy as she makes it look.

Of course, the rest of the ensemble has to hold up their end as well – and they do just that. It’s a solid comedic group, to be sure. Levine has carved out a niche as a lovable schlub; this role suits his skillset beautifully. He’s as dorkily charming as ever. Hemsworth proves surprisingly adept as the gormless Blake, leaning into every cliché thrown his way. Gilpin does a wonderful flip-flop, going from meek to merciless without skipping a beat. Jones leaps into the broad ‘90s-era gay stereotypes in a hilariously self-aware manner. Chopra’s great, too. They’re all great.

“Isn’t It Romantic” could have been a satiric takedown. It could have been a love letter. Instead, it’s a little bit of both, a snarkily-written, yet sincere expression of affection. It loves its target even as it takes its shots. It’s meta and mainstream, a movie made by a Duckie rather than a Blane. It’s far from perfect, with plenty of flaws, but it’s definitely fun.

And as for the titular query? The answer is most definitely “yes.”

[3.5 out of 5]

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