FlixChatter Review: DUMBO (2019)

It seems that every year now we’ll be treated to a live action of Disney’s animated movies. Now, I actually quite like Cinderella, Beauty & The Beast, Jungle Book, and I’m curiously anticipating Aladdin. As for Dumbo, I actually don’t remember much of the original. I only watched a scene of Dumbo and his mother in the Baby, Mine sequence. As for Tim Burton, I haven’t seen the last few films he’s done, including Alice in Wonderland which doesn’t appeal to me at all.

This movie doesn’t have talking animals nor musical numbers. The screenplay by Ehren Kruger is an expanded version of the 1941 animated version that’s now told from the human characters. The circus is intact of course, this time it’s called Medici Circus, owned by Max Medici (Danny DeVito). Soon we see Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) coming back from the war. Once a circus star, he’s now missing an arm and his wife (also a former circus star) has died of Spanish Flu, leaving him with his two kids Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). Holt gets demoted to caring for the upcoming baby elephant, which later becomes known as Dumbo.

One thing the movie gets right is the titular little elephant itself. Dumbo is utterly adorable – from the moment we saw him buried under a pile of hay, the large-eared CGI elephant immediately won my heart. A ‘face only a mother could love,’ Max Medici said, he couldn’t be more wrong. Milly and Joe were immediately taken by Dumbo as well, even more so when his mother was sold off to recoup a loss of a tragic incident. The devastating separation scene pierced my heart. I have similar experience when I was sent to a boarding school at the age of 7 and had to be separated from my own mother whom I didn’t see until two weeks later.

The villain of the movie comes in the form of Michael Keaton‘s Vandevere who buys Medici Circus upon learning of the flying elephant. His Disneyland-type, vas amusement park called Dreamland, with attractions like Nightmare Island, Wonders of Science, etc. It’s no surprise that the huge park is filled with dark secrets. Keaton is especially hammy here, but his character wasn’t given much to do. In fact, DeVito, Keaton and Alan Arkin‘s characters are basically just stock characters. They have no real arc at all, basically just caricatures of a circus owner, an opportunistic entrepreneur and a powerful banker, respectively. I have to say the timing for this movie is quite interesting. Its blatant message against corporate conglomeration/industry domination coming out just a week after the announcement of Disney buying out 20th Century Fox isn’t lost on me.

I feel like Colin Farrell‘s Holt is the only character resembling a real person and is someone actually worth rooting for. Eva Green is perfectly cast as trapeze artist Colette, offering her usual sexy mystique but this time with motherly touches. Nico Parker‘s young scientist aspiring to be Marie Curie message of feminism is quite on-the-nose, but she is pretty good role model for young girls. There’s also a fine message about not relying on certain ‘crutches’ to achieve big things, as Dumbo couldn’t fly initially without the prompting of a feather.

Burton’s visual flair and his imaginative mind seems perfect to helm this live-action adaptation. Aided by his longtime Burton-collaborators Danny Elfman (music) and Colleen Atwood (costume design), it’s indeed a gorgeous movie. I’d say the darker stuff is to be expected, but it’s nothing that would really scare off young children. Ultimately, in order for the movie to work, it has to convince us that an elephant can fly. The movie delivers in that regard. I enjoy all the flying sequences, especially towards the end when Dumbo flies over Cooney Island. I also love the scene where the little elephant was in a trance watching a circus act making giant balloon bubbles.

Just like its protagonist that keeps stumbling on its large ears, the movie doesn’t always get every step right either. The first half hour feels a bit sluggish, while the fiery finale seems too grandiose for its own good. I think Burton fans might complain that the movie isn’t weird or bizarre enough. I’d say for a Tim Burton movie about circuses that inherently celebrates eccentricities, this is a pretty safe one. But as a feel-good family film, I think it’s still pretty enjoyable. Is this movie necessary? Well no, but neither is any of the live action adaptations Disney’s been making. I personally would rather see more original stories being made, but judging this for what it is, I’d say it still merits a recommendation.


Have you seen DUMBO? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: HOTEL MUMBAI (2019)

When I first saw the trailer for HOTEL MUMBAI, I was definitely intrigued despite not remembering much of the actual events that happened in 2008. I don’t usually go for dramatizations of true events, especially when it comes to disaster/calamity. Yet there’s something about this one that appealed to me.

It opens with the attackers coming into Mumbai on boats. It isn’t spelled out who they are but it’s pretty clear they intend to cause harm on the city. We see their somber demeanor as they descend into the city, listening to a voice over from an Islamic militant group saying ‘God is Great,’ The scene is contrasted with a hotel staff, Arjun (Dev Patel), getting ready for work in the morning. The luxurious, five-star Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is run with a nearly militaristic precision. Each department head from the lobby to the kitchen grill their staff and tell them to practice ‘customers are gods’ mantra. Everything happened like any ordinary day, only later it turns out to be anything but.

I saw this at an early screening, definitely too early for something THIS intense. My coffee barely had any effect but I didn’t really need it once the action started. The attackers began the mayhem in a train station, a cafe, then the Taj Hotel, with two of the perpetrators walking in pretending to be one of the masses looking for cover. One thing that took me by surprise was that they’re just a bunch of boys, some are probably in their late teens. They get direct orders from Brother Bull who constantly feed instructions on their earpiece. Promising them money to their families and afterlife in paradise, they instill hatred of the upper class ‘infidels.’

This is Aussie director Anthony Maras‘ feature film debut and I think he’s adept enough in creating a genuine sense of suspense and dread. Films like this tend to be rather exploitative but this one looks well-crafted and well-acted all around. A production financed mostly by South Australian Film Corporation and filmed in Adelaide Film studios for the hotel interior, the production design also looked really believable. Despite the intense graphic violence of the gunmen shooting anything that moves, the movie never descends into a manic Die Hard or Expendables type of shoot-em-up thriller. I remember thinking on one intense scene where a couple of cops are trying to shoot a group of gunmen, James Bond would’ve killed them w/ a single bullet each. But it’s NOT that kind of action fantasy, so real people did get hurt and innocent people lose loved ones in the most brutal way.

There’s not a weak performance amongst the talented cast. I have grown to respect Dev Patel and his character Arjun is immediately sympathetic. There are scenes with relatable humanistic touches, such as when Arjun lost his shoe and had to jam his foot into his boss’ shoes that are way too small for him. I’ve been a big fan of Indian actor Anupam Kher who portrays Chef Oberoi and once again he’s terrific here, who along with Arjun are the unsung heroes of the hotel attack. Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi played husband and wife who travel with a nanny and their baby, which made up some of the film’s most suspenseful scenes. Jason Isaac is also quite memorable as a high-ranking Russian mystery guy, one of the guests trapped in the hotel. The film did a good job making me care about the characters, instead of just showing a play-by-play of a horrifying event. Even the bad guys get to be more than stock characters, and they get to show their human side without glorifying their evil acts.

Apparently the filmmakers got access to original transcripts of intercepted cell (mobile) calls between the ten terrorists and their handlers, which adds the authenticity of the scenes. Watching this I was quite infuriated and frustrated by how ridiculously slow the hotel (and perhaps other places) get support from the Indian government. The hotel staff kept having to reassure the guests that help was coming, but they were trapped in some kind of ‘safe house’ area of the hotel for hours before the special ops finally arrived from New Delhi (800 miles away from Mumbai).

The text at the end summed up the damage of the tragedy, with 164 people killed and over 300 people wounded. The film premiere last year was planned to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the attack. The hotel only took 21 months to be restored to its original glory, and many of the survivors attended the grand re-opening.

I remember feeling a bit lightheaded and weak in the knees after watching this, given the vivid depiction that made me feel as if I were right there amidst the chaos. Indeed a grim and unflinchingly-tense film that shows the triumph of human spirits and acts of heroism by regular people.


Have you seen HOTEL MUMBAI? Let me know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Shazam! (2019)

There’s such a huge anticipation over this movie, and the early reviews have been giddily-positive. I have to say I was caught in a bit of Shazam! fever as well after seeing the second trailer, which promises a boisterous good time.

This movie is an origin story of the DC superhero that’s originally named Captain Marvel in the comics, but later renamed to Shazam! as Marvel comics held the rights to the name. I think Shazam is a more appropriate name for this given its whimsical, zany nature, though it actually started with a pretty dark sequence.

The movie took its time before we actually see protagonist in its superhero form. We see Billy Batson as a toddler getting lost in the crowd at a carnival, then later as a mischievous teenager (Asher Angel) playing pranks at cops. We follow Batson’s journey into another foster family where he meets his new friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer). Grazer is SO good here, I absolutely adore him as Freddy who gives equal levity and credible emotional weight when the movie requires him to. I feel like the energy level shoots up significantly once the two meet up, which only gets better after the teenage Billy gets his powers from the Wizard.

Now the movie’s MVP is definitely Zachary Levi with his unabashedly-exuberant, relentlessly-buoyant performance. I have only seen him in the first season of Chuck in which he also played an effortlessly likable, goofy character. But Shazam is clearly a role he’s born to play. My favorite parts are the superhero discovery process, when Shazam is learning the extent of his strength, how to fly, etc. Those moments are so hilarious, filled with joyful good fun. I mean who hasn’t dreamed of taking on the people who’ve made our lives difficult, so all the scenes of Billy taking on the school bullies are pure wish-fulfillment stuff. I also laughed the hardest at the references to other DC heroes, esp. when Shazam throws a Batman toy  at the villain screaming for his help. It’s even amusing now given his alter ego’s name is Batson (read: Bat’s son) 😉 What makes Shazam works is that he’s still relatable even after he gains incredible powers. He doesn’t suddenly gain a conscience the way a mature adult would and behaves in an altruistic way like Batman or Superman.

I wish the trailers haven’t given away some of the funniest bits however, but it also didn’t show some of the less-fun scenes, mostly involving Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong). Heh, even his name seems tedious. Now, I have seen the British actor portray a bunch of evil bad dudes, from Kick-Ass, John Carter, Robin Hood, even in the BBC miniseries The Jury in 2002 where he beat the living hell out of [pre-Leonidas] Gerard Butler with a baseball bat. I always think of him as a strong actor (pun intended), albeit that he’s been typecast, but here I thought he’s pretty weak. In superhero movies, it’s not enough that we have a formidable hero, we also need a worthy villain to make the movie works as a whole. I just think Sivana lacks real menace, so he ends up just being infuriating and worst of all, cheesy. The scene of him and the seven-deadly-sin gargoyle creatures wrecking havoc in a board meeting is perhaps my least favorite moments, which is a shame given DC usually gives us such terrific (even iconic) villains like The Joker, General Zod, etc.

I also think that the tonal shift from the dark scenes to the lighter, goofier parts could be handled better. Some critics have mentioned that this movie has scary moments that might spook young kids. I think I’d agree with that, but it’s not a dealbreaker for me. Apparently director David F. Sandberg is known for his horror films (i.e. Annabelle: Creation) which explains the scarier parts of the movie. The screenplay Henry Gayden mostly works, as it has heart in the right place. The scenes with the foster family are genuinely moving. I appreciate how the movie champions the often ‘forgotten’ people such as foster parents & foster kids, people with disability, kids who are bullied, and made them the real heroes. It also shows a prayerful family who loves and accept the kids as they are, now THAT is rare to see in a Hollywood studio movie, but gratifying to see.

In the end, I enjoyed it for the most part despite the overly bombastic action finale that somehow many DC movies can’t avoid, and other flaws I mentioned. Shazam! is definitely better than most DC movies. Yes I know that’s not saying much given their track record, but surely the DC execs are ecstatic by this positive reception. Now that we’ve got the origin story out of the way, I look forward to what Shazam will do next in the inevitable sequels.


Have you seen Shazam!? I’d love to hear what you think!

Guest Review: US (2019)

guestpost

Written & Directed By: Jordan Peele
Runtime: 1 hour 56 minutes

Jordan Peele has done it again.  He has given us Us, a horror movie that can and will throw you into your favorite existential spiral. Have issues with interpersonal relationships? Peele can prod at that.  Worried about the government or science meddling in things above their scope and being all secretive about it?  Peele can poke at that. Do you agonize over the complexity of the self or the soul or whatever we’re calling our essence these days?  Peele can haunt. your. brain. With Us Peele has created a piece of horror that is funny, visceral, meditative, vicious, wholesome (seriously, the Wilson family has no business being so heart-melting), and clutch-at-your-movie-buddy scary.

Us follows the Wilsons, a perfect American family of four (think warm motherly glances and bad dad jokes), through the most horrific night of their collective lives. One day into what should have been an idyllic family vacation, the Wilsons are confronted by a family that looks exactly like their own. But this other family is faster, meaner, and has a grudge to settle. Violently.

This is a film full of mirror images and reflections. There is a running theme of the number 11:11 (including a bible verse, which, imho, is a superficial reference only used because of its two elevens and threatening tone); a huge amount of visual storytelling done through reflective surfaces; and multiple recurring motifs and actions. Us is a thoughtfully crafted script (Jordan Peele) and piece of visual art (Mike Gioulakis), which will keep your mind busy making connections from start to finish and beyond – when you’re not too busy giggling with terror.

This is Peele’s second collaboration with composer Michael Abels who has, once again, created a creepy, beautiful backdrop to the film. The score is percussive, orchestral, grungy, and will undoubtedly raise the tiny hairs on the back of your neck.

Because Us is about a battle between look-a-likes (if you have watched one trailer for this movie I am not telling you anything you don’t know), we get the delightful experience of watching each actor conquer two vastly different roles. Evan Alex (Jason Wilson/Pluto) oscillates between a sweet and socially awkward boy to something terrifying and bestial; Shahadi Wright Joseph (Zora Wilson/Umbrae) pings from a baby-faced pre-teen to a psychopath who will give you the shivers; Winston Duke (Gabe Wilson/Abraham) morphs from a nerdy, lovable dad to a silent behemoth; and Lupita Nyong’o (Adelaide Wilson/Red) goes from worried mother to something else entirely.

Although the bulk of the movie revolves around the Wilsons, there is a delightful cameo by Elisabeth Moss (Handmaid’s Tale) and, weirdly, Tim Heidecker (of Tim and Eric notoriety).

Watching Us feels a lot like solving a puzzle box. Peele introduces a mystery, gives you the tools to successfully solve it, and then beneath that first mystery is a second and then a third and then a fourth mystery. We, as viewers, get to successfully figure out puzzle after puzzle, but there is another one waiting.

My movie-going buddy complained about the frequent use of humor in Us, which I feel compelled to mention only because I disagree so much. Peele very effectively uses humor to both cut and create tension, which takes a very particular kind of finesse. Let’s all agree that movies that subsist in one measly genre are boring and thank the many movie makers (Jordan Peele included) who dare to explore multiple genres at once.

See Us.  You will laugh and cringe and while both your brain and heart melt.

And look out for the subtle nod to Get Out! Everyone loves an Easter Egg.


Have you seen Jordan Peele’s ‘US’? Well, what did you think? 

Trailers Spotlight: Dumbo | Hotel Mumbai | Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Hi everyone! Happy First Day of Spring! Stay tuned for our reviews of Jordan Peele’s Us movie and Shazam! coming later this week.

For now, I thought I’d post some trailers for a couple of upcoming movies (I’m seeing the press screenings next week) … and one that just dropped today!

DUMBO

I actually don’t remember much about the Disney cartoon version of Dumbo, I was more affected by Bambi as a kid. But when the first trailer dropped last year I was so moved by it that I teared up! In fact, I couldn’t stop my tears from falling every time I heard the ‘Baby Mine’ rendition by Norwegian singer Aurora Aksnes.

I don’t usually get super excited over Tim Burton movies, but this one looks really good! It’ll certainly be a darker take than the animated version, which is usually the case with the live-action remake. I do love the cast, Michael Keaton, Colin Farrell, Danny Devito and Eva Green who’s perfect as a circus aerialist. The young actress Nico Parker looks so much like Zoe Saldana I thought she’s the one playing her younger version in Avengers: Infinity War.

Can’t wait for the screening next Tuesday, I’ll be sure to pack tissues!


HOTEL MUMBAI

Dev Patel is on a roll. He’s got two films I’m looking forward to, this one and Wedding Guest. I can’t recall much about the events in 2008 this film is based on, where the famed Taj Hotel was under siege by terrorists in Mumbai. This film is a dramatization of the real life events, which is also the subject of the 2009 Emmy-nominated documentary feature Surviving Mumbai (now renamed Mumbai Massacre).

The trailer looks quite gripping and it’s got a pretty good score so far on Rotten Tomatoes. Armie Hammer and Jason Isaacs and one of my fave Indian character actors Anupam Kher. Per IMDb, a significant amount of actual dialogue in the film was repeated verbatim being taken from original transcripts of actual intercepted mobile phone calls during the 2008 siege.


ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

Well, well, well,  the Summer of ’69 just dropped on the first day of Spring! [somehow now I’ve got that Bryan Adams song stuck in my head!]

Surely you’ve seen the rather ho-hum official poster that dropped a couple of days ago. Well the memes have been hilarious, but as a huge fan of Eileen Steinbach’s amazing poster designs, I thought I’d include her version instead…

In any case, two of Hollywood’s biggest stars Brad Pitt & Leonardo DiCaprio collide in Tarantino’s ninth feature film, which QT himself has dubbed “the most exciting star dynamic duo since Robert Redford and Paul Newman.”

Well I dunno about you but the one thing that had me do a double take in the teaser is the Bruce Lee scene! Wow, I thought they did some serious special effects to get the real martial arts legend to fight Brad Pitt here…

I had to check out WHO that actor is who played Bruce Lee, he’s uncanny! Well, his name is Mike Moh and guess what, he grew up in St Paul Minnesota and according to IMDb he now runs a martial arts school in Madison, Wisconsin?? 🤯

In any case, well the teaser looked intriguing. I love historical fiction, especially involving the movie industry. It reminds me a bit of the Coens’ Hail, Caesar! though given the Charles Manson connection, it’ll certainly have some dark stuff despite the lighthearted tone of the trailer. It is a Tarantino movie after all. Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate is spot-on casting right there. Oh and apparently Tom Cruise was supposed to play the Brad Pitt’s role of stuntman Cliff Booth but had scheduling conflict filming Top Gun: Maverick. Hmmm, that would’ve been interesting to see Cruise playing Leo’s stuntman!


What do you think of these trailers? Which ones are you most looking forward to?

Mini Reviews: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) + Wind River (2017)

Happy Monday everyone! It’s been a pretty hectic week last week with freelance gigs, script updates, etc. There’s a hint of Spring (finally!) after such a long and pretty miserable Winter, in fact, we pretty much hibernated most weekends the past couple of months. Well, that gave us a chance to catch up on a bunch of new-to-me movies. Today I’ve got a pair of excellent, moody crime thrillers that both took place in the Winter months.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing for forty years by Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker.

Directed by: David Fincher
Screenplay by: Steven Zaillian

For a while I sort of avoided this adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s crime novel (part of the Millennium trilogy), both the Swedish version and this English language version. I just thought it’d be too violent and that I wouldn’t enjoy it. But well, my hubby and I were in the mood for a good crime noir, and since we both liked Gone Girl, we thought we’d give this one a shot. Well, I wasn’t disappointed.

David Fincher is a master in building suspense even with relatively little action. I quite like Daniel Craig as the disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who’s hired by a retired CEO Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the disappearance of his grandniece Harriet. Vanger exposed some really strange family dynamics which lives up to his descriptions, and then some. The film took its time before Mikael and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) meets, as their story runs in parallel until their eventual meet-up.

I knew going into this that this is a violent film, especially dealing with brutal sexual assault and rape, but still, it’s quite harrowing to watch. The way Lisbeth retaliates for this brutality has that ‘wish fulfillment’ fantasy, as the wicked assailant has no idea who he’s dealing with. Mara’s transformation as Lisbeth is astounding and she completely lost herself in the role as the brilliant but antisocial hacker. I thought Mara’s a bit of an unusual choice to play her, but she pulled it off. Lisbeth is quite a mesmerizing and intimidating character, an undoubtedly challenging-but-flashy role every prominent actress would want to portray.

What I like most about this movie is the way the story unfolds. I actually like the deliberate, almost unhurried pace, but every moment is never without a sense of dread. Fincher’s direction is superb, using the setting (in Sweden and various Nordic countries) to great effect in conveying the perfect mood for the film. It’s the kind of mystery thriller that fully immerses you in the story and rewards your patience. Stellan Skarsgård is pretty memorable here as well in a quiet, but sinister role as Harriet’s brother.

I have to say though, the scenes towards the end with Lisbeth inhabiting a completely different persona as a femme fatale is feels a bit off from the rest of the film. The hurried pacing and more glamorous setting makes it feel like a Bond movie (with Lisbeth playing ‘Jane’ Bond) which is amusing given Craig’s casting. Honestly, it took me out of the movie a bit. I enjoyed watching the scenes, it’s just that the whole thing feels incredulous. Perhaps that is the point, Lisbeth going way out of her comfort zone to help someone she cares about.

Despite the gruesome scenes, I actually like this film enough that I might even rewatch it at some point. There are SO much details during the investigation that I likely missed a few things. It also got me intrigued to see the original Swedish versions starring Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth.

WIND RIVER (2017)

A veteran hunter helps an FBI agent investigate the murder of a young woman on a Wyoming Native American reservation.

Written & Directed by: Taylor Sheridan

After seeing The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, my hubby and I are craving for more mystery thrillers. I was impressed by Taylor Sheridan‘s impressive writing in Sicario, but haven’t seen anything else he’s done since. Well, he’s definitely no ‘one hit wonder.’

The film opens with a card that says “inspired by true events,” which makes the scene that follows all the more excruciating to watch. A panic-stricken young woman is running in a vast snowy land on the Wind River Indian Reservation with barely enough clothing to survive the harsh climate. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), an expert tracker working for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agency, discovered her frozen body and alerted the FBI. The Feds sent a rookie agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) who arrived from Las Vegas and soon realized this case is way in over her head.

The unlikely partnership between Lambert and Banner is the core of the story and it’s intriguing to watch. The fact that Renner and Olsen worked together in Avengers: Age of Ultron two years prior is amusing, but it’s a testament to their acting that I quickly forgot about that fact as the film progressed. I love that Sheridan’s just as concerned with his characters as he is with solving a murder case, putting this film far and above a typical CSI or Law & Order’s ‘whodunnit’ episode. Soon we learn about Lambert’s past and why this case is so hugely personal to him. Sheridan also toys with our expectations, in a good way, in the way he presents the murder suspects. I’m also impressed by the skilled use of flashback to tell a crucial detail, without spoon-feeding the audience too much details. I also appreciate that the film is not gratuitously violent nor gory.

Renner is particularly strong here in a soulful, emotionally-grounded performance as a man who’ve been through hell and back. Lambert offers a nice contrast to the inexperienced Banner, teaching her the ropes without being condescending. Veteran character actor Graham Greene as the Tribal Police chief Ben plays a crucial role here. “This is the land of you’re on your own.” Ben sheds lights into how the Native American community like Wind River is marginalized and barely gets the attention they deserve, as evidenced by the lack of federal support Banner gets to solve this case. I like Jon Bernthal‘s casting as well which again toys with our expectations given the tough guy roles he often plays.

The desolate setting here is a character in itself, in which the location is pivotal to the story. It’s a bleak film to be sure, but a deeply engrossing one and it’s not without hope. That scene towards the end of Lambert and his friend Martin (Gil Birmingham) is a powerful one that ties well with an earlier scene after the girl’s body’s just discovered. I find myself engrossed in this slow-burn mystery, which also rewards your patience with a satisfying ending. I’d say it’s a pretty strong directorial debut from Sheridan, though it made me curious to see how the film would look like under someone like David Fincher. In any case, Sheridan is definitely a gifted writer and a promising director, I’m definitely keen on seeing more of his work in the future!


So have you seen either one of these films? I’d love to hear what you think!

Guest Review: Isn’t It Romantic (2019)

guestpost

Directed By: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Written By: Dana Fox, Erin Cardillo, Katie Silberman
Runtime: 1 hour 29 minutes

Isn’t It Romantic is a masterpiece. Not in the sense that it’s ideologically revolutionary or that it’s even necessarily going to stand the test of time, but it is skillfully conceived, written, acted, shot, and edited in a way that can only be described as masterful. I’ve seen it twice and, while that has scratched the itch for now, I have no doubt that I will watch it again. And again. And again.

The movie opens on Natalie (Rebel Wilson) living an average life in a dingy, stinky version of New York. She has a tiny apartment, a disobedient dog, and a job as an undervalued architect at a small office where she works alongside two friends (Adam Devine and Betty Gilpin). One thing leads to another and, after spending several hours complaining about the unrealistic, flawed nature of romantic comedies, Wilson wakes up in one herself.

From the moment that Natalie wakes up, we are in a different universe. Everyone is beautiful, coupled off, and dressed in eye-popping color. The streets are brightly colored, the air apparently smells like lavender – even the parking signs have engagement rings on them instead of, y’know, parking instructions. Not only that, but Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles suddenly becomes the soundtrack to Natalie’s new life and she finds herself on the receiving end of some unwelcome (but wholesome!) romantic attention. This romantic attention is almost without fail the romantic comedy staple of Natalie tripping, being caught by a handsome stranger, and dramatically locking eyes.

But she hates it:  partially because that doesn’t happen in real life and partially because she “knows” that she isn’t special, so she doesn’t trust them “being so nice” to her. Isn’t it Romantic is a good parody (birds fly in heart formations in rom-com land! someone screams “thank you!” every single time an item gets thrown from a window!), but it’s more than that. The audience gets to see Natalie grow her confidence and self-love and becoming more comfortable as the star of the ridiculous romantic comedy she woke up in – even if that means running in slow motion at the appropriate moment.

Rebel Wilson puts on an exuberant, nuanced performance. She is the one straight character in a story full of over-exaggerated tropes (speaking of which, big ups to Priyanka Chopra for possibly the best hair flip of the decade and Betty Gilpin for going from awkward girl next door to cultivated she-demon in the space of one movie), but Wilson does so with verve, making the audience laugh, cringe, and get a little emotional right along with her.

Of course, there are flaws in masterpieces. There were a few parts of the movie that could have used tightening (although that is probably more of an editing issue than a writing one – the snappy dialogue and funny tone were impeccably done by the writing team) and Liam Hemsworth’s performance didn’t work quite as well for me on a second viewing, but any issues are nominal. 

There are plenty of things that are wrong with romantic comedies as a genre–and most of those are laid out very effectively by Natalie towards the beginning of the movie–but there is a lot of good in them, too. Isn’t it Romantic makes fun of the bad parts, elevates the good parts, and constantly references classic romantic comedies. (My personal favorite was “you had me at hello-copter.” I’ll leave it up to you to find the rest.)

See Isn’t It Romantic. If you like parodies. If you like rom-coms. If you like Rebel Wilson. Shoot, if you like playing I Spy, you should watch it and see how many of the references you catch. From a cast that easily hits key touchstones, incredible visuals, and a fun (ultimately feel good) storyline, Isn’t It Romantic is one of the good ones.


Have you seen ‘Isn’t It Romantic’? Well, what did you think?