When Rebel met Liam
When Rebel met Liam

MOVIE REVIEW: Netflix rom-com way better than expected

Romantic comedies have certain rules they either have to follow or subvert.

We all know what they are - the leads have to be impossibly hot, everyone else will see their attraction to each other before they do, every scene is bright and colourful even if the city they're set in is not, the lead always has a sexless or oversexed best friend with no story of their own, and the woman is clumsy but adorable.

Isn't it Romantic, out on Netflix today, is meant to be an anti-rom-com.

Its heroine, Natalie (Rebel Wilson), was told by her mother (Jennifer Saunders with a shockingly bad Australian accent) that girls like them will only ever find someone to marry if a man needs a visa.

She's carried this scepticism of romance and lack of self-confidence into adulthood, where the Aussie now lives in New York and is working as an architect where all the men treat her as a coffee goffer rather than a qualified professional designing a new hotel.

 

Imagine being stuck in your own rom-com. Yeesh.
Imagine being stuck in your own rom-com. Yeesh.

When Natalie is mugged in the subway, she violently hits her head and wakes up in the hospital.

But instead of a gronky emergency room with a surly and overworked doctor, her glamorously made-up face is greeted by a hot doctor in a private room with flowers and extremely flattering lighting.

Natalie has woken up in her worst nightmare: her life has become a romantic comedy, complete with the rom-com tropes she so bitingly mocked only 15 minutes earlier.

The campy gay neighbour and style guru? Yes. A female work rival (Betty Gilpin) who wears impossibly high heels? Yes. A smouldering stranger (Liam Hemsworth) who accidentally hits her with a car? Yes. The kind best friend (Devine) who's perfect for her but she can't see it? Of course.

Naturally, the soundtrack to such a candy-coloured world is filled with Six Pence None the Richer, Vanessa Carlton, Donna Lewis and Annie Lennox - all the radio hits you'd expect on a Valentine's Day CD.

Isn’t it Romantic falls into the same rom-com tropes it seeks to skewer
Isn’t it Romantic falls into the same rom-com tropes it seeks to skewer

In throwing Natalie into this parallel universe-type setting, Isn't it Romantic is able to make fun of all those rom-com clichés with a cheeky spirit. It's satirical and entertaining, even for the misanthropic non-rom-comers among us.

Wilson is perfectly cast as the awkward Natalie, her particular brand of self-deprecating and slightly cringe sense of humour embodying the character who's at times bewildered.

I'm not personally a fan of Wilson, I've always found she leans too heavily into that gawky, floundering and slightly caustic archetype, but here she's actually kind of endearing. Although, if the movie had been longer than its lean 90 minutes runtime, she would've started to grate.

 

Sometimes the one you’re looking for is right in front of you.
Sometimes the one you’re looking for is right in front of you.

Everyone else is too thinly written to be classified as fully formed characters, and not just because they're supposed to function as rom-com ideals. And it's frustrating when two Australian actors playing Australian characters talking to each other slip into Americanisms like "grade school" instead of primary school.

But ultimately, Isn't it Romantic falters when it falls into the same traps it set out to subvert, unable to help itself but hew closely to the genre it owes its existence to.

For all that, Isn't it Romantic is absorbing and lively - a perfectly respectable and diverting way to pass some time on a weekday evening, a bowl of gelato in hand. And there will be some giggles.

It's way better than you would expect for a movie with the description "Rebel Wilson and Liam Hemsworth rom-com".

Rating: ★★★

Isn't it Romantic is available to stream on Netflix now.

Share your movies and TV obsessions: @wenleima


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