The movie opens to the song “Oh, Pretty Woman” and, moments later, to the movie Pretty Woman, which a slightly chubby Australian girl named Natalie is watching on TV. Her mother (a vastly underutilized Jennifer Saunders) warns the blissed-out child to “forget about love.” No one will ever make movies about “girls like us,” she explains, adding, “Someone might marry you for a visa, but that’s about it.”
Flash forward, and the now grown Natalie (Wilson) is an architect at a Manhattan firm. Sadly, her mother’s warnings about how no one will be interested in her appear to have come true, both romantically and professionally. Despite her career success, everyone in the office treats Natalie like a coffee girl. Even her best friend, Josh (Adam DeVine, Wilson’s co-star and eventual squeeze in the Pitch Perfect movies), seems to spend his days looking out the window at a billboard of a bathing-suited supermodel. Gone are the romantic fantasies of Natalie’s girlhood. She even berates her assistant, Whitney (Betty Gilpin), for enjoying rom-coms, and proceeds to enumerate all the tedious tropes thereof: the adorably clumsy lead, her gay best friend, her female nemesis, the cheesy pop songs, the interruption of a marriage to the Wrong Person. (Take notes. As you’ve probably surmised, these will be important later on.)
In the subway, a man seems to flirt with Natalie. But no! He’s only trying to get close enough to punch her in the stomach in order to steal her purse. (This is one of those movies with the message “What matters is what’s on the inside” that nonetheless tries to get as much early comic mileage as possible by making fun of how its protagonist looks on the outside.) In the fracas, Natalie bangs her head against a steel beam and passes out. When she awakens, she finds herself in a romantic comedy. All of the aforementioned tropes are in evidence; every good-looking guy is now more interested in her person than in her purse; etc., etc. Even New York “doesn’t smell like shit anymore!,” Natalie enthuses.
If this sounds an awful lot like last year’s Amy Schumer vehicle, I Feel Pretty (in which Schumer bangs her head and comes to believe that she is the most beautiful woman in the world), well, that’s because it is. Yes, it appears we now have an official subgenre of pseudo-feminist movies in which a woman is initially presented as completely unattractive; is concussed into a fantasy in which she becomes impossibly desirable; and from the experience gleans important, affirmative lessons about believing in herself.
Read: When beauty is a troll
Sigh. At least Isn’t It Romantic is not as sour and self-negating as Schumer’s film (which was already an improvement on its genre cousin, Shallow Hal). The new movie, directed by the comedy journeyman Todd Strauss-Schulson, offers flashes of charm here and there, and a couple of modestly fun musical numbers. But its moral messages are frequently confused or contradictory, and the movie is neither particularly funny nor particularly clever in its dissection of the rom-com genre.