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Isn’t It Romantic

*heavy sigh* So, how have you all been doing?

Me, I’ve been hard at work remounting my writing/producing magnum opus, “From the Ruby Lounge”, for a full three-weekend run this August, following an oversold workshop run in February 2018 and a sold-out fundraising party/dance pole rehearsal last March 9th. (You can read all about it at the crowdfunding campaign here, and if you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation, I would take that as a personal favor.) Meanwhile, my other show just opened up to a sold-out house and we’re gearing up for a second weekend as I type this.

I have been a very busy guy. So it’s just as well that the multiplexes have been more or less barren lately. Between the Oscar ceremony and Captain Marvel, this has been an excellent month for sweeping mediocrities and misfires under the rug. It’s gotten genuinely hard to find anything worth reviewing that Captain Marvel hasn’t pushed into some godawful time slot.

…Wait, what’s that? Isn’t It Romantic got a 70 percent Tomatometer? Plus, it’s only 90 minutes long and the writing team is exclusively female? Well, what the hell, let’s give that a shot.

Rebel Wilson plays… oh, as if the character’s name even matters. Wilson stars as a woman who’s been raised her whole life with crippling self-esteem issues. She’s a deep-seated cynic who hates romantic comedies with a fiery passion because of how unrealistic and dated and misogynist they are. Then she hits her head (it’s a long story) and suddenly her entire life is a romantic comedy.

This is my least favorite kind of movie to review because it leaves me with basically nothing to talk about. Hell, at 90 minutes long, it barely even qualifies as a feature-length movie. On top of that, it’s a movie with a one-joke premise, and that one joke wears really thin, REALLY fast. It certainly doesn’t help that the one joke is that this movie is a parody of romantic comedies — a genre that became a parody of itself ages ago.

While the actors look like they’re having a blast, they’re all playing one-note characters we’ve seen a million times before. They’re all going through a rote and cliched plot we know by heart, telling jokes that stopped being funny years ago. It’s alternately annoying and boring, not helped by the fact that these filmmakers clearly know better.

Of course, it’s not all bad. A couple of jokes are legitimately funny, the big Whitney Houston number was great fun, and the closing number (though it came right out of nowhere) was adorable. But what really stuck with me were those few moments when the filmmakers put sincere effort into analyzing romantic comedies and our fascination with them.

Yes, romantic comedies are a fantasy in which everything is bright and colorful and impossibly happy. But it’s also a world with no swearing or sex, and who wants that? And for that matter, who really wants to live without the flaws and quirks that make people into friends and a place into a home? That’s not even getting started on the overly simplistic morality at play, leading directly to stereotypes that are outdated and frankly cruel.

With all of that said, there is definitely a place for predictable, colorful, and upbeat entertainment in a world that’s so often uncertain and bleak. More importantly, romcoms at their best can be a reminder that even in this bleak and uncertain world, there is still romance. Sure, romance in the real world may not look like it does in the movies, but soul mates do find each other and people do fall in love. Even if that doesn’t happen every day and it may not always last, it’s still one of the happiest and most beautiful things we can hope for in this soul-crushing world, and it should be celebrated. Not all of us look like Meg Ryan or Tom Hanks, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find love or happiness and it sure as hell doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to.

Even if we don’t look like Leading Actor material and we don’t live perfect lives, we can still be the hero of our own story. We can power through all the heartbreaks and betrayals if it means we get even a brief time with that Hollywood storybook romance. And even if we never do, just being open and optimistic enough to search for it beats the alternative.

While I had a very hard time sitting through Isn’t It Romantic, I can certainly understand the appeal. The twenty minutes’ worth of genuinely heartfelt, funny, and uplifting material was almost — ALMOST — worth sitting through the hour of unfunny and uninspired dreck. It’s a one-joke movie that will assuredly land harder with romcom enthusiasts and Rebel Wilson fans. And really, why would anyone pay full ticket price for a movie that barely passes for feature-length anyway?

This one gets a rock-solid home video recommendation.

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