The romantic comedy is back. As you know from the numerous posts we’ve devoted to every movie of the current rom-com resurgence, we think it’s about damn time. There was a point in time when you could look at the box office options on any given weekend and the romantic misadventures of Meg Ryan or Julia Roberts or Kate Hudson or Katherine Heigl etc would be waiting for you.
There was also a time when you couldn’t read an essay about the genre without it starting with the headline, “The Problem With Rom-Coms” or something similar. Some of the most classic rom-coms are full of problematic tropes. There have been some glaring Problems with Rom-Coms but the same thing could be said about action movies. I f-cking love romantic comedies and I am always ready to defend them. One of my fave Mindy Kaling quotes is, “I simply regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi.” They are fantasies. We should treat them as such. That said, my favourite thing about the current rom-com resurgence is that these films are updating the genre for the moment, casting leads we’ve never seen before and putting a feminist (ish) twist on a genre that desperately needed it. Enter: Rebel Wilson and Isn’t It Romantic?.
Rebel plays Natalie, a woman who hates romantic comedies. The trailer starts with her mother telling her, “Love’s not a fairy tale. Girls like us don’t get that … look in the mirror, doll. We’re no Julia Roberts.” She’s right that Rebel doesn’t look like Meg or Kate or Katherine or Julia. Neither does Constance Wu or Lana Condor. I like the trend of showing romantic leads who challenge the idea that only skinny white ladies fall in love.
I like this trailer, and not just because my favourite Hemsworth is in it. I’m going to make you wait for my thoughts on Liam. First, Isn’t It Romantic? is going to get the obvious comparisons to Amy Schumer’s horrendous rom-com attempt I Feel Pretty because the promised premises are similar: woman hits head, sees the world differently, hilarity and romance ensue. The thing is, I Feel Pretty missed the mark hard. Where that movie basically upheld the unrealistic beauty standards it was allegedly trying to dismantle, Isn’t It Romantic? seems like a fun satire that will hopefully actually challenge the things it’s trying to challenge, like the lack of body diversity in this genre, while poking fun at cheese of it all (don’t f-ck with my unnecessary dance sequences though, they get to stay).
The movie may try and fail at challenging one big problem in rom-coms though. After Rebel’s Natalie finds herself in the middle of her very own romantic comedy, she also gets a new best friend.
“Now I have a gay sidekick, like, setting gay rights back a hundred years.”
This could be a funny and subversive gag, for a line or two. If this character is just the prototypical sassy gay best friend the whole movie, is that really subverting the stereotype or playing into it for laughs? A better way to call out romantic comedies for relegating people from marginalized communities to sidekicks or the comedic relief is to depict them as full human beings – kinda like Rebel is doing by being the star of this rom-com instead of playing the sidekick like she usually does (How To Be Single, Bachelorette). Sure, make the joke that rom-coms usually exploit their gay characters but then show us a gay character that’s different from what we’ve seen. If you’re not going to do that, what’s the point? Priyanka Chopra is an afterthought in this trailer. Both the male leads are still white guys. If you’re going to be the movie that takes on rom-com tropes, I don’t think you can still push the one brown character and the one gay character to the margins. If it does that, how is this movie any better than the ones it’s making fun of?
Now, for Liam Hemsworth. His cameos in this trailer brought the biggest laughs for me. The way he yells “are you feeling what I’m feeling!?” out of the top of a limo is the perfect jab at the corny-ass formulaic leading man. The Hemsworth brothers are showing a real knack for comedy and I’m into it. I’m also very into shirtless Liam Hemsworth. I laughed out loud at the ‘cut to the next morning’ spoof. That’s what rom-coms need: MORE SEX.
Netflix has been getting most of the credit for reviving the romantic comedy and while they do have a bunch in the pipeline (thank Beyoncé), don’t forget about the Crazy Rich Asians effect. It proved that rom-coms can be profitable at the box office again, and the leads don’t have to be Megs or Julias or Kates or Katherines. It’s also VERY SMART that this one comes out on Valentine’s Day. How are we already talking about Valentine’s Day?