Warning: Spoilers for Isn't It Romantic are ahead.
The thing about Rebel Wilson's new rom-com, Isn't It Romantic is that it's supposed to be a glorious indictment of rom-com tropes. When her character, Natalie, hits her head during a meet-cute-turned-mugging, she finds herself in a world of over-the-top rom-com tropes, sanitized New York streets that smell like roses instead of hot garbage and street meat, and impeccably choreographed karaoke dance numbers in a dive bar full of enthusiastic backup dancers. The movie quite successfully shows that the world within rom-coms is not only heightened, it's a full-on bizarro version of the real world. But this experiment should, in theory, also expose the larger issues with the endlessly debated genre — things like the fact that the rom-coms generally force female characters to focus on a singular goal (the guy) over everything else (themselves, their careers, their hobbies, etc.). And Isn't It Romantic almost manages it. But, as the great Brandy Norwood sang back in 1998, almost doesn't count.
As it turns out, Wilson is very aware of the discrepancy created by the movie's conclusion. Though the ending strikes a bit of a compromise by still giving Nat and Josh (Adam Devine) their big kiss, it's followed by a very reasonable request for an extremely normal date, rather than some over-dramatic promise about how Nat's destiny has always been Josh or how Natalie is the only woman in the world in Josh's eyes.
"I also wanted my character to have a sad ending at the end," Wilson, who also served as an executive producer on the film, told Refinery29 at the Los Angeles junket. "I didn't win that debate, but God, we had a heated debate for days." The debate Wilson is referring to comes from the film team's decision to bring in a group of women like Devil Wears Prada writer and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend showrunner Aline Brosh-McKenna to discuss the balance of a character like Natalie, who is meant to be both a rom-com heroine and the opposite of a rom-com heroine. "We discussed the depths that you go into with my character and if we wanted to present more of her sadness at the beginning of the film and it it was a hot debate all day. We debated these things [with] these very smart women because we wanted to get the balance right."
The lynchpin in this discussion though is the expectation for the hero in any rom-com; whether a movie is a parody or not, there's something in all of us that still wants our girl to get her love in the end. It's frustrating, especially for Wilson's co-star, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, whose big gripe about most rom-coms is hard to extricate from romantic movies — even this one.
"I love rom-coms, but I hate that the story ends as soon as the girl gets the guy, like that's the only thing she can achieve in her life, and her entire lives drive is to find this perfect man," she tells Refinery29.
And, as those who saw the film know, that's pretty much where Natalie's story ends. Yes, she learns to love herself, and that's her big "rom-com" moment. But the romantic happy ending is still the cherry on top before the close of the movie. Per Wilson, that's because test audiences weren't having anything less.
"It's hard to surprise people with rom-coms," she says. "Not only do they think [the romantic ending is] what's going to happen, but really they want that to happen as well. They do need it. If you try to fuck with that, they also get angry, which we found out in the testing when we tried to do a sad ending to the film and people weren't so keen on it."
Chopra Jonas, however, loves the compromise that Isn't It Romantic struck because of the emphasis placed on Natalie's declaration of love towards herself (in the middle of a wedding... at the end of her rom-com fantasy experience... in which she ends up alone... until the conclusion of the actual movie). "There is a bow, but there isn't. Like you don't know," she says, referring to the uncertainty of Nat and Josh's future once the credits roll. "Her realization in the movie is the most important thing to take away from it. That's eventually what life stands for. Everybody else comes in an out of your life, but your relationship with yourself, first and foremost, is the most important relationship in your life."
And at the end of all this, to know that Wilson at least attempted to fight for something different is at the very least, encouraging. She says that did win other battles as a producer on the film and that overall, it does feel true to her own experience as it is.
"I think [producing on a film that you're in] allows the stories that you tell to be a bit more authentic to you, because I think I am the prime demographic as well to watch the movie, people like me and my sisters and my friends are who the movie was made for, so I have was very opinionated about what, what should go in the movie," she said.
And for Chopra Jonas, having that level of involvement from Wilson made all the difference. "There's something so empowering about [seeing women producers]. And seeing that [Rebel] was Boss Status on set, we all acknowledged and appreciated it."