Recently I gave two movies the benefit of the doubt simply because they were written by women. That is, they looked kind of silly, and were directed by men, but the screenwriters were female so I thought I’d give them a chance . . .
The first was A Simple Favor, which came out last year and I think was a bit of a sleeper hit because it stayed in NYC theaters for quite a while–though maybe I’m just out of it and didn’t realize what a big movie it was. Anyway, I watched it at home last month with my husband. I had to suggest it for a few nights before he agreed to watch, not because of any snobbery on his part, but because it’s really hard to tell what this movie is. From the trailer, it seemed like a light thriller that maybe took itself too seriously. But it is not that, at all.
I should have known it would be light on its feet because it’s directed by Paul Feig, who usually directs comedies, and is based on a bestseller by Darcey Bell. (The screenplay is by Jessica Sharzer.) It’s very wacky, definitely light, but also suspenseful and witty with excellent chemistry between the two lead women, Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. Also, the costuming is perfect—unrealistic in the best way, with Lively in gorgeous menswear and Kendrick in colorful mommy-blogger outfits that are more homage than parody. The ending is as ridiculous as a Lifetime movie but the movie prepares you for that by slowing ratcheting up the melodrama factor. If A Simple Favor was indeed a sleeper hit–or a big hit–I can see why. I would have gone to seen it in the theater if I’d had a sense of how much fun it was going to be.
I actually went to the theater to see Isn’t It Romantic mainly because I’d had a stir crazy week at home and just wanted to go to the movies. I wanted something light and easygoing and this fit the bill, though it wasn’t much more than that. Watch it on a plane and you’ll be fine.
The premise was similar to I Feel Pretty: A woman deemed not to be conventionally pretty wakes up to find herself in a different version of her life after hitting her head and losing consciousness. In I Feel Pretty, Amy Schumer (I can’t remember the character’s name) suddenly has the confidence that she never had anymore. She believes she is the most beautiful woman in the world and her life changes as a result of her belief. In Isn’t It Romantic, Rebel Wilson (I also can’t remember the character’s name, does it even matter?) wakes up to find herself in a romantic comedy–a genre she is wholly skeptical of, and one she brutally dissects, shortly before getting hit in the head.
This is a funny idea, but it can’t carry an entire movie, or at least, not this one. The best jokes were the visual ones. The movie starts off in quasi-indie-movie realism mode, with characters occupying apartments and wearing clothes that more or less fit their budgets. The office where Rebel Wilson works looks like a busy, haphazardly decorated place. Her assistant wears the blah button-downs and Old Navy pencil skirts of a real assistant trying to make ends meet in NYC. (Been there.) But when Wilson wakes up in romantic comedy world, everyone is suddenly decked out in brand-new clothes, with styled hair and make-up. Wilson’s apartment is given the Nancy Meyers treatment, and her previously chaotic Queens block is suddenly tidy and and bedecked with flower sellers.
I liked these visual jokes because I think they pointed out a real problem with romantic comedies, which is the way studios try to make up for good writing and emotional stakes with beautiful sets and costumes, as if this consumerist fantasy will be enough. But for most of Isn’t It Romantic I thought about how much I’d like to see a sincere romantic comedy that was good, not just a send-up of one.