Spoilers below for Isn’t It Romantic.
Within the first 15 minutes of Isn’t It Romantic, the latest entry into the rom-com-satire genre, our protagonist Natalie (Rebel Wilson) makes it very clear that she hates rom-coms, or as she calls them, “lies set to terrible pop songs.” She goes on a lengthy diatribe, listing every romantic-comedy trope that bothers her, much to the horror of her rom-com-obsessed assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin). Unfortunately, when she gets knocked out during a subway mugging, Natalie wakes up in a world where she has to live through every one of those clichés until she figures out how to get back to her reality (little does she realize, her reality very much resembles a romantic comedy, without the rom-com sheen — she’s an architect! With self-esteem issues! Who doesn’t know her best friend is in love with her!). She’s stuck in a Rom-Com World, and she’s gotta play by the Rom-Com Rules.
Isn’t It Romantic doesn’t exclusively subvert the genre — Natalie is every bit a rom-com heroine who gets her happy ending — but it does lovingly poke fun at it while dealing with a few of the more problematic tropes (that happy ending only comes once Natalie has learned to love herself — she doesn’t need a man for that, duh). It’s a movie making fun of rom-coms for rom-com lovers. So what romantic-comedy tropes does Natalie encounter in her glossy, PG-13 alternate universe? Vulture outlines them below.
In Rom-Com World, everyone is hot.
Natalie’s doctor? Hot. The cop who arrests her? Very hot. Her mousy assistant? Now hot (and scary!). In fact, when Natalie finally wakes up from her stint in an alternate reality she finds yet another hot doctor tending to her and fears she’s still stuck in Rom-Com World — but not to worry, he’s just doing research for a role on SVU. Some people are just too hot to be doctors!
New York City is the most magical place on the planet and never ever smells like shit.
Listen, I love New York City as much as a the next gal, but even I can admit that it smells like shit sometimes. Not in Rom-Com World! Natalie wakes up in a New York City that smells like lavender and is bright and sunny all the time (except when there’s a kiss in the rain), and you don’t get run over by a halal cart. Instead of bodegas, cell-phone-case stores, and places to exchange your gold for cash, the streets are lined with florists, cupcake bakeries, independent bookstores, and bridal shops. It frightens Natalie, and frankly, it frightened me. Where will I get my cell-phone case now, Rom-Com World?!
The heroine has a great apartment, a killer wardrobe, and is always perfectly made up, even when she first wakes up in the morning.
In reality, Natalie lives in a dirty closet of an apartment, has a dog who can’t even play dead, and doesn’t seem to care much about what she wears. In Rom-Com World, she discovers that she has a gorgeous, palatial apartment, a dog WHO ACTUALLY LISTENS TO HER, and an enviable wardrobe. (No, seriously, that yellow jacket she wears to her first day of work? Mama want.) None of this seems to be reasonably affordable for a parking-garage architect, and by the end of the movie, Natalie is more than happy to be home in her shitty apartment with her shitty dog. She does, however, seem to put a little more effort into her clothes and some makeup since she’s done being invisible. But she’s doing that for her, not some dude.
A PG-13 world comes with PG-13 rules.
Poor Natalie, she starts dating the hunky billionaire Blake (Liam Hemsworth) in hopes that making him fall in love with her will end her journey in Rom-Com World, but because her Rom-Com happens to be PG-13, she can’t even have sex with him. As soon as they get to that point, it cuts right to the morning after. It’s very frustrating! And she can’t even curse about it! PG-13!
Clumsy women are adorable!
This is one of Natalie’s top gripes regarding romantic comedies. If women in the real world fell down as much as some women in romantic comedies, people would worry that they had muscular dystrophy, she says. And then as soon as she enters Rom-Com World, you better believe Natalie is tripping all over herself, and every man finds it so gosh-darn adorable. No one found Natalie getting nailed by that halal cart adorable, now did they? DID THEY?
Modes of transportation are almost exclusively motorbikes, stretch limos, and helicopters.
Transportation in the real world stinks.
Female colleagues must be mortal enemies; there is no other way.
Natalie and everyone else on planet Earth wants to know why women always have to be pitted against each other. In her reality, Natalie and her assistant Whitney are great friends and support one another. When Natalie walks into her ridiculously gorgeous office in Rom-Com World, Whitney is a complete bitch who thinks Natalie is a complete bitch. She threatens her, gives her the double middle finger, you know, the usual. In both universes Wilson and Gilpin are great together, and they should definitely do a buddy comedy next.
You have a sidekick who has no life outside of yours. In this case, he is also a gay stereotype.
Oh, Donny (Brandon Scott Jones). In Rom-Com World, Donny magically appears wherever and whenever Natalie needs him because he literally has nothing else to do. He also, as Natalie notes, sets the gay-rights movement back several decades. But in the real world, Donny is just your average gay drug-dealing neighbor. Look at that — not a stereotype and self-employed!
It’s time for a fashion montage!
Even when a jam comes on as Natalie talks about needing an outfit for her date, she refuses to participate in the great rom-com ritual of the Fashion Montage. As she points out, trying on multiple outfits and modeling them to other people is only fun when, well, you’re a model. Or, you know, never.
DO NOT FORGET ABOUT THE BIG PRESENTATION.
If you love romantic comedies and send-ups of romantic comedies, I hope you’re already watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. If not, you should be because recently it did an episode that completely tore up the well-worn rom-com movie beats, which focused heavily on a Big Presentation everyone was worked up about with little to no details regarding the actual topic. There’s one of those here, too.
Kissing in the pouring rain isn’t awkward or freezing at all.
Although Natalie seems to enjoy her kiss in the rain that magically begins to fall at the perfect moment, the idea that this activity is enjoyable is one of the greatest lies rom-coms have perpetuated. I mean, you’re just getting wet. And not in the good way.
The hot guy the protagonist thinks she’s supposed to be with is completely wrong for her and also an ass.
In the beginning of a rom-com, if there is a guy who the protagonist is Sure He’s the One, then he’s definitely Not the One. This is Rom-Com 101: There’s always a decoy guy. But Natalie, even though well-versed in the rules of romantic comedies (especially for someone who hates them!), forgets this and believes it is Blake who she needs to make fall in love with her in order to get back to reality. A mistake! Sure, Blake is a hot rich guy who can Wear a Suit and calls her beguiling, but he also says things like, “Have you ever heard of a man called Gandhi?”; is always stepping away to take a call from his dad; hates Natalie’s ambitions; and steals her plans for the Big Presentation. Even in Rom-Com World, there is no perfect guy — only the perfect guy for you.
Relationship timelines run at hyperspeed.
One day you’re just a guy named Josh (Adam DeVine) giving a yoga ambassador who looks like Priyanka Chopra the Heimlich in the park; days later you’re marrying her in the Hamptons.
There will be terrible voice-over to explain how the protagonist is truly feeling.
Honestly, Natalie’s voice-over, during which she explains her feelings about how to get out of her alternate reality and her feelings for Josh, end up helping her quite a bit. Maybe we should all start doing voice-overs for ourselves.
Your best friend who you have chemistry with — yeah, that’s your soul mate.
It takes Natalie experiencing this obvious truth in Rom-Com World for her to realize that it also applies to her reality. So, yes, the girl who hates romantic comedies is totally living out some real-life rom-com shit. But only the good parts!
Oh, there will be a slo-mo running sequence, and it will probably be in order to break up a wedding and/or make a declaration of love.
PSA: If you have big boobs, there is no way running a long distance without a sports bra is anything but painful — even if you are running toward the love of your life. Rebel Wilson knows it. I know it. Any large-chested woman knows it. I’m so glad Rebel’s awkward slo-mo run to break up a wedding sheds some light on this important matter. That is all.
Everyone is great at karaoke and magically knows the same choreography when dancing breaks out.
I will never gripe about random choreographed dancing in rom-coms, especially when they come in the form of Rebel Wilson, Adam DeVine, and Priyanka Chopra performing “I Want to Dance With Somebody” at a karaoke bar. I don’t think Natalie would complain either, seeing as how back in reality, once she gets her happy ending, she gives herself the biggest dance number of them all. Liam Hemsworth plays a sax. THIS IS WHY WE HAVE MUSICAL NUMBERS IN ROMANTIC COMEDIES.
The person you’re supposed to be in love with has been right in front of you all along, you’ll probably have a montage about it.
This is the one romantic comedy cliché Isn’t It Romantic really turns on its head. Natalie has that Big Realization moment all rom-com protagonists do when they figure out who they are supposed to be in love with … but she realizes she’s supposed to love herself. That montage the heroine has remembering all the moments that made her love that person? Natalie has one about herself. Once she opened herself up to life and love, some pretty great things happened, head-injury aside. Now, that’s a good a love story.