Movie Review: Rom-Com Deconstruction Goes Down as Easy as a Cupcake in the Frothy and Insightful ‘Isn’t It Romantic’

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

Starring: Rebel Wilson, Liam Hemsworth, Adam DeVine, Priyanka Chopra, Betty Gilpin

Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson

Running Time: 88 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Stereotypically PG-13 Rom-Com Behavior

Release Date: February 13, 2019

Do romantic comedies offer any applicable lessons for our own lives? Or are they all just toxic fantasies and at best valuable only for the escapism they offer? Isn’t It Romantic would like us to believe that even the most unrealistic rom-coms can provide inspiration for how to navigate our love lives. It’s a lesson that its main character Natalie (Rebel Wilson) would be wise to take to heart (and ultimately of course, she will). An architect living in an accurately smelly and sweaty New York City, she has been raised to be cynical about the genre, and fairly enough, she calls out its most destructive tropes: from the female co-workers who are mandatory rivals to the gay best friend who has no personal life of his own. But her cynicism blinds her to the existence of potential true love around her, partly because she does not believe that most guys would be interested in a “normal” girl like her. She is someone who would clearly benefit from saying “yes” more often, even if what she says yes to is living out an over-the-top stereotypical rom-com. Somehow, that experience leads to self-acceptance and fully listening to the people who truly appreciate her.

Nat is transported to this fantasy world when she hits her head while getting mugged in a subway station. She finds herself in a suspiciously fragrant version of NYC in which just about everyone is a little too open to the possibility of random meet-cutes. For her, that means a whirlwind romance with Blake (a never-better Liam Hemsworth), a client of hers who speaks almost exclusively in Buddhist aphorisms. And for Nat’s best friend and co-worker Josh (Adam DeVine), that means falling into the embrace of Isabella (Priyanka Chopra), the improbably employed “yoga ambassador.” It turns out that the rom-com storyline at play here is actually “best friends realize they were supposed to be together all along, almost before it’s too late,” and chances are pretty high that the corresponding happy ending will come to fruition. But the real raison d’etre of this whole affair is for Natalie to separate the chaff from the wheat of what rom-coms have to offer. Yes, they might be unrealistic and sometimes even toxic, but that is no reason to be miserable and reject love in our own lives. Isn’t It Romantic deconstructs to remind us why these silly, frothy stories are still worth telling.

Isn’t It Romantic is Recommended If You Like: Enchanted, They Came Together, Rebel Wilson and Adam DeVine’s chemistry in Pitch Perfect

Grade: 4 out of 5 Mornings After

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Baywatch’ is Gratuitous, Shameless, and in Search of a Purpose

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CREDIT: Frank Masi/Paramount Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera, Rob Huebel, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Director: Seth Gordon

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: R for An Obsession with All Body Parts

Release Date: May 25, 2017

Baywatch follows the 21 Jump Street template: take a TV show from a couple decades ago that people remember but nobody is especially attached to, then blow it out to something bigger, brasher, and maybe a little meta. It may not be the most ambitious formula, but Jump Street proved that it could result in a clever commentary on the nature of reboots. Baywatch is less interested in that, or any pretensions. Instead, it mostly wants to just hang out and do its own thing. Which is fine! The film makes a go at capturing the cheeky spirit of the original on a larger, less discreet scale – it might leave you feeling a little naughty, but everyone is indulging. Alas, it ultimately descends into just the latest gross-out comedy crossed with a derivative action spectacular.

The most representative shot of Baywatch of Kelly Rohrbach’s jiggling butt while she administers the Heimlich maneuver. Rohrbach is C.J., the bubbly blond bombshell filling in for Pamela Anderson, and the choking victim is Ronnie (Jon Bass), the chubby trainee who is inexplicably recruited to the lifeguard crew. This odd couple obviously ends up together, even though Ronnie is sure C.J. is out of his league, but she knows what she wants and she does not even need to the dance moves that Ronnie learned at Hebrew school to be won over. The schlubby guy/hot girl pairing might be cliché, but the specific details in this case are actually kind of encouraging. There is something inspiring about how the guy who gets his privates stuck between the slats of a beach chair is more Casanova than laughingstock. Everyone loves Ronnie!

In fact, the great charm about Baywatch is how well everyone on the team gets along. The other major romance, between trainees Brody (Zac Efron) and Summer (Alexandra Daddario), at first appears like it will be distressingly conflict-driven but instead evolves into a much more palatable game of playful one-upmanship. Really the only conflict of any significance is the one between head honcho Mitch (Dwayne Johnson, taking over for the Hoff) and Brody. The latter is a gold-medal winning Olympic swimmer looking to repair his image after a Ryan Lochte-esque scandal, and he is only on the team because Baywatch administration wants to boost its p.r. Naturally, Mitch must teach this lone wolf the importance of teamwork. But even here, the dynamic is sympathetic and silly, with Mitch letting the homeless Brody crash at his place and pranking him with a corpse’s genitals.

The majority of this review sounds rather complimentary, even though only about 25% of the film is worth recommending. But it is that 25% about which I have the most to say. Theoretically, Baywatch could be perfectly enjoyable if it were just a plotless hangout movie, with the lifeguards saving civilians by day and porking each other by night. Instead, there must be a standard-issue action plot about a Bond-type villainess (Priyanka Chopra) with the entire town in her pocket pulling off a drug-smuggling ring. The Baywatch crew takes it upon themselves to investigate the mysterious substances and dead bodies washing up on their shores, but since they are not law enforcement, they have no authority to do so, which the actual police keeps reminding them about

Indeed, they are not law enforcement. Nor are they superheroes, which this film so desperately wants them to be. They are mortal human beings who may be highly skilled at what they do, but there is no compelling reason to believe that they can be ominously superhuman saviors. It takes the absurd stake-raising of multiple sequels to get to that point. Viewers for this style of popcorn fare are like that metaphorical frog sitting in gradually boiling water. If the stakes go up bit by bit, we do not realize until after the fact that we have forever departed any semblance of reality. But if they are jacked up to 11 right from the start, we rightfully scoff.

Baywatch is Recommended If You Like: Tight Bodies and Explosions

Grade: 2 out of 5 Slo-Mo Bouncing Breasts