Natalie (Rebel Wilson), an Aussie architect working in Manhattan, hates rom-coms. She’s allergic to all the clichés of the genre, and ever since she was a child, her mom (Jennifer Saunders) has taught her that Hollywood fantasies with Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, etc. are “not for girls like us.” Working in New York does nothing to disabuse Natalie of the notion. She’s “extra-invisible” to her company’s handsome client, Blake (Liam Hemsworth), who Natalie describes as “CW hot.” He rudely treats her as a lowly assistant and barks orders for coffee. Meanwhile, she is adored by nebbish co-worker Josh (Adam DeVine), but she doesn’t notice. Work is her only passion.
Then, boom, everything changes. While chasing a mugger in the subway, Natalie smashes into a pole. Newly concussed, she wakes up in a New York with a glossy PG-13 filter on it. Cinematographer Simon Duggan’s camera shoots everything pastel-bright like a Martha Stewart catalogue, notably Natalie’s transformed apartment which is now magazine-spread ready. When Natalie runs into Blake again, he’s super polite, sporting an Aussie accent (both leads are real-life Australians) and calling her “beguiling” like a lovestruck Romeo. (Somewhere along the line, The Hunger Games hunk has found a light-comic touch that truly is beguiling.) Yes, the switcheroo gimmick in the script by Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox and Katie Silberman bears more than a passing resemblance to last year’s Amy Schumer comedy I Feel Pretty. Remarkably, the actors and director Todd Strauss-Schulson (The Final Girls) power on like the conked-head gimmick is a completely new invention.
Audiences may find it harder to fake amnesia, especially when Isn’t It Romantic starts morphing into the exact kind of sugar-spun rom-com that Natalie claims to despise. In fact, everyone starts acting like they’ve been forced fed Love Potion No. 9. Natalie acquires a gay best friend in Donny (Brandon Scott Jones), the better to deal with Whitney (a terrific Betty Gilpin), her mousey work assistant who is now a glam go-getter practically cloned from Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl. Even Josh gets hit on by gorgeous Priyanka Chopra Jonas (the third name courtesy of new husband Nick) as Isabella, a beauty with the unlikely title of “yoga ambassador.” Natalie is ready to puke, until she hops into bed with body-beautiful Blake. The catch: There’s no sex. It’s all before-and-after fade-outs, because it has to be. Natalie is fated for Josh, a non-spoiler unless you’ve never been allowed to see a Hollywood love story.
Wilson makes it all go down easy with her brass and sass and unfakeable warmth even during the danceathon ending in which the whole cast celebrates the rom-com aesthetic by getting down to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Isn’t that a betrayal of everything Natalie and her movie are supposed to stand for? Yeah, maybe, but this meta-take on meet-cutes hooks you up with a few good laughs while it mocks itself. It’s a damn shame about the sucker punch of a happy ending. Still, thanks to the comic tornado at its center, Isn’t It Romantic is still your best bet for a Valentine’s date at the movies. You could do worse.