The Rom-Com’s New Normal
Isn’t it Romantic? pleasantly surprised me. I worried that the film would use the head-injury conceit, similar to the one in Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty, as a way for a fat woman to finally find love because she couldn’t possibly otherwise. That’s the way the movie turned out, but not in the way I expected.
ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Written by: Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, Katie Silberman
Starring: Rebel Wilson, Liam Hemsworth, Adam Devine, Betty Gilpin
Running time: 88 min.
Gloriously, no one mentions Rebel Wilson’s weight once, unless you count her own comments about being the first plus-size rom-com star (you’re slandering Queen Latifah. Last Holiday is right there, Rebel). Rather, the movie shows us all the tropes of a romantic comedy with one key difference. Rebel’s character, Natalie, gets to be the “straight man.”
Her mother taught her early on to never expect a happy ending. Natalie took that to heart. The early scenes of this rom-com accurately, and stunningly, reflect the real world. Pre-bonk, she lives in average surroundings, in a small apartment on a crowded and dingy street that that could be anywhere in downtown LA, Chicago, Portland, New York, etc. Her dog doesn’t play dead. In her crowded office, no one dresses to the nines with perfectly-coiffed hair. Her only bright spots are her co-workers and best buds Whitney (an almost unrecognizable Betty Gilpin) and Josh (Adam Devine). Ugly almost seems normal. Natalie ignores all romance.
Post-bonk, her apartment, shoes, and dog are designer. New York has been entirely gentrified and filled exclusively with cupcake, wedding, and flower shops. The plot makes fun of tropes like those sprinkled throughout the absurd satire They Came Together. But in this more mainstream satirical take on the genre, Natalie is fully aware she’s stuck inside an alternate universe, and it’s a nightmare for her. The movie contains lots of fun meta content for rom-com fans, like a truly wild karaoke number that puts Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s “Gratuitous Karaoke Scene” to shame, with harmonizing, full choreography, table-walking and pratfalls.
The Greatest Love Of All
The romantic comedy genre has been changing lately. I’m hesitant to call this new trend norm-core, because I hate the phrase norm-core. But modern romantic comedies certainly have a more realistic view of romance than say, Pretty Woman.
Sex Education, on Netflix, provides is a prime example of this evolution. Like Sex Education’s Otis, Natalie isn’t the prototypical protagonist. In most romantic comedies, the audience can see the lead is enchanting, but the characters don’t believe it until someone falls in love with them. But Otis and Natalie differ from the norm. They don’t have it all together, but they have kindness, empathy, and a willingness to try.
Both projects focus on what real people want out of relationships, rather than what Hollywood thinks people want. The kids in Sex Education don’t just want to get laid–they want to enjoy it, they want their partner to enjoy it, and they need help.
Natalie needs help too. She thinks she can return to her former life by falling in love, so she allows hunky Blake (Liam Hemsworth), who embodies every female fantasy men assume women want, to sweep her away. Though charmed by fancy dinners and helicopter rides, Natalie realizes the glamorous, beautiful life doesn’t suit her. She doesn’t want a billionaire and an offensively-stereotyped gay bestie. She wants soup dumplings with her pal instead of lobster in the Hamptons.
To get it, she needs to do one thing–love herself. She doesn’t need to change and she doesn’t need a makeover. She must learn that she deserves love, and that love is waiting for her. Some might argue that the happy ending is still unrealistic, but I disagree. It’s much easier to attain self-acceptance and self-love than it is to score with Liam Hemsworth. He’s married.