This Valentine’s Day, instead of going to the theater to see a standard romantic comedy, you might choose instead to see Isn’t It Romantic? the sendup of romcoms starring Rebel Wilson, Priyanka Chopra, and Liam Hemsworth.
In the movie, Natalie (Wilson) works at an architecture firm with her best friends Whitney (Betty Gilpin) and Josh (Adam Devine). She does not get any respect, but she loves the work. On the same day that she chickens out of pitching her big idea to a big new client, Blake (Hemsworth), she also busies herself explaining to Whitney why romantic comedies are so ridiculous and all the ways they lay out harmful, unrealistic expectations. That night, she gets mugged and wakes up inside a romantic comedy version of her life. The trouble is, she wants her real life back.
I think Isn’t It Romantic? is like a revised, better version of last year’s I Feel Pretty. The plot follows a similar structure and central gag, but instead of making poorly conceived jokes at the expense of the leading lady’s appearance, Isn’t It Romantic? makes the genre the butt of the joke. The problem is not setup as being that Rebel Wilson isn’t conventionally beautiful, it’s that most women aren’t Julia Roberts or don’t live in huge New York apartments covered in flowers. In the leading role, Rebel Wilson’s confidence serves the story really well. Even when she’s not acting especially brave at the beginning of the story, she does not hate herself and her self-assurance keeps the story out of saccharine territory.
This film isn’t breaking any new ground, but it does what it sets out to do very well. The jokes land and the characters are fun to watch. Right down to the big musical number that closes the film, I enjoyed my time at the theater watching this one. It’s a great choice for a date night or a girl’s night.
Isn’t It Romantic? was directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson and written by Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman. It runs 89 minutes and is rated PG-13 for language, some sexual material, and a brief drug reference.
If you’d rather stay inside where it is warm, I recommend Russian Doll, streaming on Netflix. Irreverent and often a little inappropriate, the series follows Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne) through the Groundhog Day-like experience of repeatedly dying and coming back to relive the night of her 36th birthday.
The show has an edgy, arty aesthetic and at first I was a little unsure if I would like it or if it was trying too hard to be cool. For example, in the first two episodes, Lyonne’s line delivery sometimes slips into a register that sounded like she was channeling Lewis Black. Once the show finds its feet, however, the plot gets really interesting and the characters grew on me. By episode three I was fully invested in the mystery and starting to really like Nadia, even if I still thought she was a total mess.
Although the show features fun performances by Greta Lee, Elizabeth Ashley, and Rebecca Henderson, it is really Charlie Barnett who, as mysterious, anxious Alan, provides the best foil for Lyonne’s level of intensity and comedic timing. As a pair, they get into some heavy issues around grief, relationships, and morality and the odd-couple nature of their pairing still feels fresh and funny.
Russian Doll starts with a familiar story structure and takes it to some absurd, surreal places. The characters are interesting and the dialog is snappy. It’s a fast-paced watch and perfect for a weekend binge.
Russian Doll was created by Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne, and Amy Poehler. It is 8 episodes long and rated TV-MA.