“Isn’t It Romantic” has charm to burn, in a light-hearted send-up of romantic comedies that playfully turns all the familiar tropes into a lively vehicle for Rebel Wilson. The movie owes a thematic debt to “Groundhog Day,” but mostly – in a film so conscious of conventions that it niftily bleeps its foul language – it’s a heckuva lot of fun.
Wilson plays Natalie, a somewhat surly New York architect who positively hates rom-coms, even though she’s completely fluent in all their annoying little tics. (She’s introduced watching “Pretty Woman” as a kid, only to be told by her mother that such happy endings aren’t for the likes of her.)
Underappreciated at work and insecure, Natalie pooh-poohs the suggestion that her work pal Josh (Adam Devine, like Wilson, a veteran of the “Pitch Perfect” movies) might have feelings for her, despite all those invitations to join him at quirky post-work activities.
Soon enough, though (indeed, almost too soon), Natalie suffers a head blow, awakening in the hospital to the lush strains of the theme from “A Summer Place” and a handsome doctor mooning over her.
“What Men Want” employs a similar device to kick-start its plot, but the results here are more inventive. Yes, Natalie is suddenly trapped within a romantic comedy, one where a dashing billionaire with chiseled abs (Liam Hemsworth) begins wooing her, while Josh saves the life of a yoga ambassador/model (“Quantico’s” Priyanka Chopra), who immediately falls for him.
Although there are plenty of advantages to residing in rom-com land – including access to a terrific wardrobe, impossibly big apartment, and help from a gay best friend (Brandon Scott Jones) blissfully unencumbered by work concerns – Natalie desperately wants to break the spell. The problem is that she’s unsure what will free her, leading to a rather amusing series of trials and errors before “Isn’t It Romantic” reaches its satisfying (if like everything else in the film, fastidiously chaste) climax.
Wilson puts all of her skills to use, including her comedic chops and singing, the latter shown off in jauntily choreographed, rom-com-worthy production numbers. She’s surrounded by a game group earnestly portraying straight men and women, while all the little technical details – from the music to the production design – niftily reinforce the surreality of this alternate universe.
Todd Strauss-Schulson directed from a screenplay by Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox and Katie Silberman, and nobody can accuse them of overstaying their welcome, in a movie that runs less than 90 minutes. In fact, a bit more set-up might have benefited the early going, but abundant energy generally carries the story along.
A logical fit for Valentine’s Day, “Isn’t It Romantic” will actually launch on Netflix outside the US and Canada, joining the streaming service’s fertile romantic comedy niche. While that release pattern might make sense for a relatively modest project, given the crowd-pleasing aspects of this Rebel yell, like its self-deprecating protagonist, that might be selling its appeal a little short.
“Isn’t It Romantic” premieres Feb. 13 in the US. It’s rated PG-13.