Followers of Priyanka Chopra’s Hollywood journey, beware: it takes eight minutes for the Hindi movie star to make an appearance in the anti-romcom Isn’t It Romantic – and when you see her, it’s on a billboard for a hair care product.
The flesh-and-blood version arrives only in the 26th minute, and floats in and out of view for the rest of the 89-minute movie. As is turns out, Isn’t It Romantic is actually a vehicle for the comic talents of lead actress and co-producer Rebel Wilson. Chopra is only one of the elements in a satire that sends up romcoms, only to ultimately embrace their message: somewhere, somebody is waiting for you.
After a limited release in the United States, the movie is out on Netflix. Rebel Wilson plays Natalie, who has been inured against romcoms by her mother while watching the Julia Roberts-Richard Gere fairy-tale Pretty Woman as a child. These movies are not for girls like us, the mother tells the chubby Natalie. If such films were made, they would be so sad “they’d have to sprinkle Prozac on the popcorn”.
The grown-up Natalie realises just how unfair – and unromantic – life can be as she struggles to be taken seriously at her architecture firm. A knock to her head during a mugging transports Natalie into an alternate universe, one in which her messy house resembles a cupcake-coloured movie set, her dog obeys her commands, and her incredibly dishy client Blake (Liam Hemsworth) swoons over her.
Natalie’s best friend Josh (Adam Devine), whose adoration she has missed betwixt her grumbling and self-pity, finds a new squeeze in the form of swimsuit model and “yoga ambassador” Isabella (Priyanka Chopra). Natalie’s partner-in-crime at work becomes her biggest rival. Her cussing is bleeped out since she is in a “PG-13 romantic comedy”, where unladylike behaviour isn’t tolerated. The average rom-com heroine’s dream is fast turning out to be Natalie’s nightmare, especially since she is the only one who is aware that a spell has been cast on her world.
The screenplay, by Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox and Katie Silberman, works best when mocking rom-com boilerplate. Natalie describes romantic comedies as “toxic” (Sample view: “Sweet Home Alabama is a masterpiece of shit!”)
Todd Strauss-Schulson’s movie is on less firm ground as it reaches for the same feelgood conclusion that bedevils one of the most cliched Hollywood genres. The movie loses steam as the spell stretches on, and it takes the energy of the actors, especially Rebel Wilson and Adam DeVine, to keep the comedy on an even course.
Priyanka Chopra, unfortunately, doesn’t have much to do. Chopra has charted an uneven career in Hollywood films, and Isn’t It Romantic reveals her limits at satirical comedy. The irony of Isabella as a jokey stereotype of the purring and pirouetting romcom heroine might be lost on Hindi film regulars, who have seen Chopra in precisely this role in numerous local productions. At least Chopra is perfectly at home in the musical numbers that litter the movie, even though they are unimaginatively filmed (Bollywood would have fared better).