|'Isn't It Romantic': It's to Laugh|
|By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic|
07:18PM / Thursday, February 21, 2019
First things first. Unlike the 1932 Rodgers and Hart classic song "Isn't It Romantic?" director Todd Strauss-Schulson's convivially entertaining romantic comedy, "Isn't It Romantic," forsakes the question mark at title's end. All of which is either a mental slip or intended to suggest a more demonstrative, rhetorical meaning. In other words, no question about it: It Is Romantic!
In such case, an exclamation point would have been a more apt substitute for the question mark, and I would have been left without a pretentious, opening paragraph.
To tarry further, as I'm prone to do when the film in question doesn't necessitate a doctoral thesis to explain its ins and out, such creative nuance in the use of punctuation points to a rather sad conjecture. Historians in the improved circumstances that will hopefully follow the U.S. presidential election of 2020 will look back and possibly opine: "It's a pity that the civilization of what was known as the 21st century, while so adept at the artistic shaping of their language, didn't comprehend the need for universal health care. As a result, life expectancy was rather short, and one can only speculate what medical and cultural advances might have been achieved in a more enlightened culture."
Which is why we need comedy. Now, I've long been uncomfortable about the use of farce, folly and frivolity as a bandage for dire circumstances. Picture the poor, put-upon court jester employed to ease the conscience of a despotic king whose starving subjects hate his guts. Tsk, tsk. But fact is, while the early use of comedy was meant to ameliorate an anthropology striving to pull itself out of a rather humorless, primordial muck, today's professional manufacturers of laughter have progressed from their sweatshop past to generally less severe challenges.
Therefore, perhaps indicating a conflict in philosophical viewpoint, my favorite film genre, of which "Isn't It Romantic" is a fairish example, is the romantic comedy, or romcom as those disposed to employing portmanteaus would call it. But before getting to the root of said penchant, a bit more societal diatribe.
We had the time, predilection and ingenuity to develop a description-like portmanteau, used in this case for combining the words romantic and comedy, but still boast no universal health plan.
Hence, at the doc in a box to have a splinter removed from my paw, it wouldn't be uncommon for the receptionist to inform: "That'll be a $10 co-pay, Mr. Goldberger, which you might look at as the price for not having a kindly mouse to remove that thorn, as well as a failure by your fellow human beings to see the wisdom of extending longevity. In the event you can't afford it, there's a romcom on TCM tonight that might temporarily relieve your discomfort."
But alas, even if that film panacea were "One Touch of Venus" (1948), the, er, romcom by which I gauge all examples of said cinema species, I'd much more enjoy it post splinter extraction. Hence, continuing in that bombastic vein of thought, I don't believe a viewing of "Isn't It Romantic" could keep you from thinking of that pesky splinter for its one hour and 28 minutes. No, this modern fairy tale about Rebel Wilson's cynical young architect, Natalie, who's all but given up on finding true love, is probably more suited to temporarily alleviating the anxiety of just having experienced a disgruntled supermarket cashier who hates his or her job and, by extension, you.
When Natalie is suddenly transported into her very own romcom (useful, that portmanteau, no?), courtesy of a clichéd bang on the head, replete with handsome Liam Hemsworth as the rich investor pursuing her suddenly realized charms, it's just enough to keep you wafted above those memories of class struggle back at the checkout line. Admittedly, there is some witty, satirical commentary on the current state of courting among the millennial set. But for the most part, the circumstances and jokes that ultimately lead Natalie to a greater understanding of love's more altruistic properties and purposes don't rise above the usual shtick seen in any run-of-the-mill TV sitcom (Psst ... portmanteau. It might be on the test).
But that shortcoming is good in the greater scheme of things. While "When Harry Met Sally" (1989), a far superior example of the genre, might make you forget your troubles for a period longer than its running time, "Isn't It Romantic" is no such balm. Thus, you are sure to exit the Bijou with your good citizenship and charity intact, fully concerned about immigrants mistreated at our southern border, angered by economic inequality from sea to shining sea, vehement about the need for a living wage, disgusted by the lack of a national health plan, and mortified by the autocratic assault on our democracy. It's funny, in a way.
"Isn't It Romantic," rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson and stars Rebel Wilson, Liam Hemsworth and Adam Devine. Running time: 88 minutes