‘Isn’t It Ro­man­tic’ takes a poke at its own genre on Valen­tine’s Day

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY AMY KAUFMAN Los An­ge­les Times

When Ari­ana Grande dropped the mu­sic video for her sin­gle “Thank U, Next” in Novem­ber, it broke the YouTube record for most views in 24 hours. Sure, the mu­si­cian made gos­sipy ref­er­ences to her ex-boyfriends in the song, but what re­ally made the video so pop­u­lar was its cheeky homages to the ro­man­tic come­dies Grande grew up lov­ing – films like “13 Go­ing on 30” and “Legally Blonde.”

Her tim­ing couldn’t have been bet­ter. In 2018, the rom-com came back in a big way, with “Crazy Rich Asians” rak­ing in over $238 mil­lion world­wide at the box of­fice and Net­flix films like “Set It Up” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Be­fore” go­ing vi­ral.

And now, this Valen­tine’s Day, Warner Bros. is re­leas­ing “Isn’t It Ro­man­tic” – a rom-com that both skew­ers and cel­e­brates the genre it­self. The film, which stars Rebel Wil­son, opens with a scene of a young girl planted in front of a tele­vi­sion watch­ing “Pretty Wo­man.” Her mother sits on the couch, ob­serv­ing dis­dain­fully, as she ad­vises her daugh­ter not to buy into the fan­tasy. “Things like that don’t hap­pen to girls like us,” she cau­tions.

As the girl turns into a wo­man, she grows to de­spise ro­man­tic come­dies and all of their un­re­al­is­tic ideals. That is un­til she gets hit on the head and wakes up in a ro­man­tic com­edy all her own, where a hand­some mil­lion­aire ( played by Liam Hemsworth) falls for her, her apart­ment is trans­formed into a de­signer loft and she ac­tu­ally gets the re­spect she de­serves at her architecture firm.

The film was writ­ten by three women who grew up lov­ing rom-coms just like Grande – al­though they had dif­fer­ent cin­e­matic in­spi­ra­tions: “When Harry Met Sally,” “You’ve Got Mail,” “Love and Bas­ket­ball.” It was the brain­child of Erin Cardillo, an ac­tress-turned-tele­vi­sion­cre­ator be­hind last year’s CW show “Life Sen­tence.”

“I grew up lov­ing rom­coms,” Cardillo said. “And then I went through a phase where I was dis­il­lu­sioned with dat­ing in my own life and I was like, ‘This is all bull … . Why did I buy into this stuff?' Those films al­ways had a fan­tasy el­e­ment for me, be­cause my par­ents got di­vorced when I was 8 and I didn’t have a lot of ex­am­ples of ro­man­tic love work­ing out. So I’d watch them and think, ‘It’s gonna be dif­fer­ent for me, and I’m go­ing to find some­thing like that.’”

She feels her ver­sion of a rom-com is land­ing at just the right time. “I think ro­man­tic come­dies have got­ten more grounded,” Cardillo said of the lat­est in­car­na­tions of the genre. “There’s a call to not have them all be pretty white girl prob­lems. I love that there’s more di­ver­sity. Not ev­ery­one in the dat­ing world is a su­per­model when they take off their glasses.”

After Cardillo sold her script to New Line, genre veter­ans Dana Fox and Katie Sil­ber­man were hired to do rewrites; Fox’s rom-com re­sume in­cludes “What Hap­pens In Ve­gas,” “Cou­ples Re­treat” and “How to Be Sin­gle,” while Sil­ber­man – Fox’s for­mer as­sis­tant – broke out last year with “Set It Up.”

We got Fox and Sil­ber­man to­gether in con­ver­sa­tion for their thoughts on all things rom-com:

Q: At the time you were asked to work on “Isn’t It Ro­man­tic,” did it feel rare for a stu­dio to be get­ting be­hind a rom-com?

A: Dana Fox: Yes, be­cause I hadn’t been hear­ing there was a spot for them. I think stu­dios are in the busi­ness of “Iron Man” money. They’re look­ing for things that they can sell toys and make a zil­lion dol­lars and fran­chises. You felt like you weren’t just al­lowed to do a ro­man­tic com­edy; you had to put ro­mance into an ac­tion film or some­thing.

A: Katie Sil­ber­man: But when I’d meet with pro­duc­ers or ex­ec­u­tives, it wasn’t like the love for the genre was gone. They were so ef­fu­sive about the rom-coms they loved.

A: Fox: Ac­tors, for a while, weren’t down with that par­tic­u­lar genre. They thought it looked cheesy or like sell­ing out. I had a hard time cast­ing some­times; you had to con­vince peo­ple that it was go­ing to be cool and fun. Q: Do you think that ro­man­tic come­dies propa-

gate un­re­al­is­tic ideals?

A: Fox: We couldn’t be any more fem­i­nist pro­lady if you paid us to be, so we re­ally care about what our work is say­ing to the world. It’s crazy if you don’t think what you watch com­pletely forms your sense of self. We tried to talk about that in the film. You see them ask­ing if ro­man­tic come­dies are dam­ag­ing and what it does to women that they watch films that tell them they’re noth­ing un­less they find Prince Charm­ing.

I for sure ran into cer­tain stereo­types in de­vel­op­ing ev­ery movie I ever wrote with a fe­male ac­tress. No mat­ter what a fe­male char­ac­ter did, if they said some­thing that was re­motely con­tro­ver­sial, they were branded as un­lik­able. So if you wanted to have a com­plex fe­male char­ac­ter, she also had to trip or cry re­ally early on in the movie. Or I would make her a baby vet – which is a vet of only baby an­i­mals – be­cause you have to give some weight to mak­ing them more lik­able. You don’t think they’re hard-and­fast rules un­til you’ve been asked to do them so many times that you’re like, “I think it’s these are just rules.”

A: Sil­ber­man: One thing I no­tice when I go back and watch ro­man­tic come­dies is how any­one who doesn’t look or be­have like a tra­di­tional lead is rel­e­gated to a side char­ac­ter who only com­ments on the lead.

A: Fox: And fe­male sex­u­al­ity is treated dif­fer­ently at the MPAA. You could shoot some­body point blank and their head could ex­plode, but if you try to talk about the fe­male or­gasm, it’s, like, R-rated in­stantly. There’s still a lot of ways in which the dam­ag­ing stereo­types in these movies are mir­ror­ing the dam­ag­ing stereo­types in life, and we all have to work hard to take them down one by one.

Q: Would you con­sider your­selves ro­man­tics?

A: Fox: All I ever want to do is talk to my friends about their re­la­tion­ships. My fa­vorite thing is when a cou­ple get en­gaged and you ask the wo­man, “Oh, my God, how did it hap­pen?” And an hour and a half later, she’s, like, “And then he got down on one knee.” And the guy is, like, “I pro­posed to her.” And you’re, like, “That’s not a story! Start from when you were born!” Q: Some fans have pointed out sim­i­lar­i­ties with Amy Schumer’s “I Feel Pretty,” which stars a wo­man who only starts to feel beau­ti­ful and gain self-con­fi­dence after she’s hit on the head.

A: Sil­ber­man: I saw it. The mes­sages are sim­i­larly about self-ac­cep­tance vs. so­ci­etal ac­cep­tance – cre­at­ing that foun­da­tion of lov­ing your­self be­fore you can love any­one else. Q: “I Feel Pretty” re­ceived back­lash of its own be­cause crit­ics ar­gued that if some­one like Schumer wasn’t con­sid­ered at­trac­tive in the film, what did that say about those who con­formed even less to tra­di­tional beauty norms? Do you worry your film

will face sim­i­lar con­tro­versy?

A:

Fox: I felt lucky we had Rebel, be­cause she is al­ways help­ful in mak­ing it feel au­then­tic and real. When you hang out with Rebel, she thinks she’s amaz­ing, so you’re like, “Great, she’s amaz­ing.” She’s dif­fer­ent, the­o­ret- ically, than some peo­ple, but she is also the same as some peo­ple. I think we were pretty care­ful not to have any talk of “Oh, be­cause you’re over­weight, you can’t have this.” It’s not her is­sue.

A: Sil­ber­man: Self­con­fi­dence and lov­ing your­self is the only thing you can con­trol. I’m not say­ing it’s the an­swer to all prob­lems. But I love that theme in movies – not wait­ing for ex­ter­nal vali- da­tion but be­liev­ing in your­self be­fore­hand to do it. It’s also the dif­fer­ence be­tween older peo­ple say­ing “That never hap­pened to me!” when watch­ing some­thing they think isn’t re­al­is­tic and younger peo­ple say­ing “Oh, that maybe could hap­pen to me.” You can’t be or wish for some­thing you haven’t seen.

WARNER BROS. PIC­TURES

Rebel Wil­son stars in “Isn’t It Ro­man­tic.”

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