I admit it: I am a sucker for Hallmark and Lifetime romance movies. I eat them up like candy. And they are, for the most part, candy: nothing but empty calories. Most of them are so alike and so bland that I forget them within a day. (One exception: “12 Men of Christmas” starring Kristin Chenoweth, the best of the many riffs on the Pride and Prejudice plot.)
There’s even a drinking game based on the tropes that these movies rely on. The game is for Christmas movies but most of the tropes show up in the non-holiday movies as well (the main character getting stuck in a small town where he/she learns valuable life lessons is almost universal).
Rebel Wilson runs amok with these tropes in “Isn’t It Romantic?” Once the movie establishes that her character Natalie is losing out both at work and in love, she gets hit on the head and has some kind of alternate-universe experience. In that universe, Natalie lives in an apartment way above her pay grade, she’s always impeccably dressed, she’s up for a huge promotion (hinging on her performance in one key presentation, of course), there’s a hostile co-worker who wants her job, and so on. All the people around her see her as stunningly beautiful, which she is mostly unconscious of, just as she is blind to the man who really loves her. She is living in a romantic comedy.
Also, she has an overly swishy gay friend who seems to have no other interest in life (like a job) than making sure she looks good for all the key plot moments. In “Isn’t It Romantic,” this character’s dialogue consists almost entirely of “oh my God!” uttered repeatedly, with a different intonation every time. While this trope is beloved of TV sitcoms, it must be noted that Hallmark movies rarely have gay characters. Instead, in their movies the best friend is often the only person of color in the entire movie, she exists mainly to point out the obvious, we learn almost nothing about her, and her dialogue always begins with “girl . . .”
Natalie is lucid enough to recognize that she’s living out a fantasy, and she’s not having any of it. “You’re setting gay rights back 20 years” she tells the swishy gay friend, and every time a strange man stops in his tracks to tell her how beautiful she is, she rolls her eyes and runs away from him. She never loses her intuitive sense that the unbelievably handsome jerk of a boss from her real life (Liam Hemsworth) is still a jerk, no matter how often he professes love for her in this alternative life. She doesn’t want the fantasy, no matter how great the wardrobe is. She wants real life and a real love.
Of course she gets what she wants, and there’s a nice message about how love can’t come to us until we learn to love ourselves. But what struck me is how, by the end of the movie, Natalie has become every bit as beautiful as people thought she was in the fantasy. She doesn’t look any different, but because we’ve spent so much time with her and come to know her as she really is, by the time Natalie realizes she truly loves herself, we love her too. And that’s one of my favorite tropes of the genre: if you spend enough time with a person and really get to know them, chances are you will come to love them.