Does Isn’t It Romantic Have Heart or is it a Failure to Subvert a Genre?

Does Isn’t It Romantic Have Heart or is it a Failure to Subvert a Genre?

Isn’t It Romantic, directed by Todd Strauss-Shulson, presents itself as a romantic comedy about a woman who hates romantic comedies. Instead of aiming to be a traditional romantic comedy, Strauss-Shulson presents a character who needs to learn to open up and find love – eventually discovering that romantic love isn’t the most important aspiration, but self-love, and self-respect. Isn’t It Romantic introduces us to our main character, Natalie, played by Rebel Wilson. Natalie is a single, over-weight, cynical architect. She is also funny, and helpful despite it being self-sacrificing. We see Natalie call to fix the printer, despite the office manager being too lazy to, she gets coffee for her co-workers, and allows her assistant to watch full-length movies all day at work. Natalie is decidedly not a romantic. The intended audience of this film is women between the ages of 22 and 35, such as working professionals, college graduates, and young women who feel unsatisfied in their love and work lives. The theme of Isn’t It Romantic is that romantic love is not everything, loving and respecting yourself is. In order to analyze the rhetoric of Isn’t It Romantic, and whether it is an earnest attempt to subvert genres, T-Lab will be used to scrutinize two excerpts of the movie, both from the beginning and end of the script, and further analysis of the aesthetics, plot, and presentation and theme will be discussed.

The top words used in Natalie’s speeches analyzed via T-Lab – a monologue at the beginning introducing her stance on Romance movies, and her closing monologue include: love (11 times), Josh (8 times), know (7 times), good (6 times), think (6 times), movie (5 times). It is not surprising that the word “love” was said the most, as this is a film built on the premise of Romance and self-love. “Josh” is the second word, which is not surprising since he is Natalie’s apparent love-interest through-out the film. The use of “know,” and “think,” could emphasize that this movie wants you to have a critical opinion of the genre. We might think we know something about romance and romantic comedies – but we should be critical of the message. This is further supported by the use of “movie”, as the film wants you to be aware that this is a critique of the genre.

Visuals and tones are used throughout the film to help convey the message. To start, New York City, Natalie’s apartment, and her job site are dirty and bleak. Natalie does not wear much make-up and the color choices are on the bland side. Dark reds, greens, and graffiti are used to highlight this point. Even Natalie’s dog, Baxter is ungroomed, and her friend and assistant Whitney has flat hair and a subdued outfit. Natalie is often ignored by other characters, or when she is approached it is negatively, such as when she’s assumed to be an intern by a client at her architecture firm. The aesthetics of the film change completely once Natalie is hit in the head being robbed in the subway. New York City is now bright with flowers everywhere, pop music plays loudly, and Natalie is wearing make-up. Her dog Baxter is now clean and listens to her commands – people pay attention to her, her apartment is much larger and nicer, and her workspace is now polished modern. The imagery on the screen is also colorful.

The plot of Isn’t It Romantic follows that of most “rom-coms”. The heroine first dates the rich good-looking character, whom she eventually realizes is a jerk and that she is truly in love with her best-friend Josh, who has always been there for her. Josh, too, has found romance with a rich model, and is now marrying her. The movie’s climax comes to a head when Natalie interrupts Josh’s wedding – but while describing how she is “smart, and kind, and funny” (Strauss-Schulson), Natalie realizes that she actually loves herself. Natalie then goes back to her life in grungy New York city, awakening with messed up makeup. However, Natalie now takes what she learned during her coma and starts acting differently in her day to day life, dressing better, taking initiative and work, and having the confidence to ask real-world Josh out. Traditionally, “[t]he basic ideology the romantic comedy genre supports is the primary importance of the couple: (McDonald 13). Instead of following this trajectory, Isn’t It Romantic offers a different solution – it’s okay for the heroine to be happy with who she is, and she can have love too, but even if she doesn’t, she’ll be alright.

The plot of Isn’t It Romantic revolves around Natalie, hater of all Rom-Coms, hitting her head when mugged in the subway, and waking up to her life now a Romantic Comedy. The problem with films that try to subvert genres, is their reliance of the genre’s previously established conventions. In order to challenge the Romantic Comedy genre, Isn’t It Romantic, must still check the boxes of the genre to convey its message. Natalie’s speeches against romantic comedies set the backdrop for the plot – Natalie hates romance, but later gets sucked into an alternate universe where she is in a romantic comedy. Much of the comedy comes from the fact that Natalie doesn’t want to be in rom-com, and yet, her life is now a romantic comedy. The rhetoric of the film is setting us up to unpack Natalie’s cynicism. Aside from the ‘twist’ that Natalie actually hates rom-coms, Isn’t It Romantic follows a very traditional trajectory throughout the film. Girl meets handsome rich man, rich man turns out to be kind of a jerk, girl realizes she loves her best friend instead. It is the end of the movie that makes the boldest statement.

According to Claire Mortimer, “[t]he majority of these movies will end with the woman making significant sacrifices for a traditional heterosexual partnership; she embraces the romantic dream and is whisked off her feet by the right guy, having realised that love conquers all” (Mortimer 30). Isn’t It Romantic rejects this notion that the guy is the ultimate end goal. At least, it rejects that love is the only end goal for a young woman. The monologue where Natalie breaks up Josh’s wedding includes her listing all of the reasons why she would be the perfect partner, to which she concludes, “Oh, my God, this whole time, I thought I had to get somebody else to fall in love with me, but I… I had to love me” (Strauss-Schulson). Through its ending, Isn’t It Romantic successfully subverts the romantic comedy genre and uses its own established conventions to set up a plot that lifts the female character. However, isn’t of being overly cynical, the film succeeds further because it sets Natalie and Josh up for a date – instead of Natalie choosing work or Josh, she gets to have both.

While Isn’t It Romantic does set the viewer up to have a non-traditional rom-com experience, at times it can feel like the film is leaning in too hard on the genre. Viewers could be confused as to whether we are supposed to be frustrated cynics like our heroine, or if we’re supposed to root for Natalie to find love all along. While Natalie does seem to lack respect for herself – letting people walk over her, not wanting to pitch her ideas in meetings, the text of the film suggests that Natalie already knows that self-love is important. In her early monologue, discussing her distaste for romantic comedies, Natalie states, “she should be happy with other things in her life, like her great career that she’s worked hard for” (Strauss-Schulson). The movie itself tells us that Natalie already knows that she should be happy with her own life and career. This monologue seems to discredit the over-all theme of the movie – why does Natalie need to go on a grand comatose adventure to learn to love herself and appreciate her job, when she has already told us that these are her values?

Isn’t It Romantic is an enjoyable film with bright, visually appealing scenes. However, the message of the movie becomes lost when our main character has already told us that she does not believe love is the be all and end all. While Natalie does need to love herself more, she would do better off with some mindful yoga and regular therapy appointments rather than be pushed into an alternative universe which forces her to search for love – something she already states would not complete her – only to then change the rules at the end. While the message of the film is consistent – you should love yourself first and foremost – it is lost when the film tries to trick us into believing our main character ever needed love in the first place. If Natalie were a love-obsessed romantic like her assistant Whitney, then perhaps we would be more shocked when Natalie realizes that Josh will not complete, but complement, her.

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