Isn't It Romantic Director and Screenwriters Talk Romantic Comedy Tropes

Isn't It Romantic, the highly anticipated rom-com parody starring Rebel Wilson, Priyanka Chopra, and Liam Hemsworth, hits theaters today. It centers on Natalie (Wilson), a woman who finds herself trapped inside a romantic comedy—and all the cringe-y tropes that come with it. You know exactly what we're talking about: In this alternate universe, Natalie has an apartment far too expensive for a twenty-something, a gay best friend who is there just to help move the plot along, and a love interest so hot nothing else matters.

But don't mistake Isn't It Romantic for the rom-coms of 2003. The brains behind this movie are acutely aware these tropes exist—that's why they included them. The director (Todd Strauss-Schulson) and screenwriters (Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman) actually subvert stereotypes in Isn't It Romantic and, as a result, bring the genre into 2019.

Of course, this required some research, but Strauss-Schulson, Cardillo, Fox, and Silberman soon became experts in romantic-comedy tropes. Below, they tell us which ones they enjoy—and which ones they were most excited to poke fun at—in Isn't It Romantic.

Todd Strauss-Schulson, director:

Before I got on set to direct Isn’t it Romantic, I watched 80 romantic comedies in a row. I went a little insane, but my heart grew more and more tender by the day. Obviously, I’d seen romantic comedies before, but I wanted to become an expert. The idea was to crack the code and see what story and visual tropes were used over and over again.

I wanted to break the rom-com genome and isolate the textures and tropes so I could rebuild them into something modern and fresh for our movie. I found a lot of weird stuff beyond the well-known “gay best friend who has no purpose in life but to care for the main character” and “trying on clothes montage” tropes. For instance, did you know there is a lot of shellfish eaten in romantic comedies? It’s true, but why? Maybe because shellfish is an aphrodisiac? Who knows, but it’s in a lot of ’em.

One of the most consistent visual tropes—and when I say consistent, I mean I was straight up spooked when I kept seeing it repeat in every movie—was half-moon windows. Like this:

Michael Parmelee/Warner Bros. Pictures

Everywhere I turned, there they were. In the offices of Bridget Jones, Working Girl, and What Women Want. At a restaurant in Picture Perfect. Front and center in the apartments in When Harry Met Sally and Made of Honor.

So I did a little deep dive, and I found two interesting potential answers. First, half-moon windows are also referred to as lunettes, and Merriam-Webster says there is some evidence of the word being used for a "little moon." (Though that meaning is now obsolete.) The moon is often associated with having a deep connection with women, and so it makes sense they would be subliminally placed all over this particular genre.

In tarot, arches symbolize beginnings, initiations, and ceremonies of renewal. Walking through an archway represents the sloughing off of the old and moving into a new phase of life. That sounds a lot like a rom-com plot to me! These characters are opening up to love, getting out of their comfort zone…and maybe even getting married.

Moons have cycles—and so do genres. Rom-coms are coming back, and we hope Isn’t It Romantic becomes one of your new favorites.

Erin Cardillo, screenwriter:

My favorite rom-com trope is The Realize and Run. As in, when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible. (Thank you, Harry. See: Nora Ephron.) Back before cell phones existed, this trope made sense. You suddenly realize you’re in love with somebody—after being a dingbat about it for the better part of the movie—but you can’t call them to tell them because landlines are stupid. Plus, they aren’t home. In fact, your somebody is probably at the airport having just passed through security, ready to board that flight to “I’m never coming back, and you can’t track me down.” Or, in most cases, they are in a nondenominational church about to marry the wrong person and they’re totally against annulment.

So you must run. Fast! Cars are just as stupid as phones. Luckily, you don’t have a bad back—or if you do, it was designed that way for comedic effect. Nevertheless, you can run, and you are capable of traversing whatever absurd obstacles are in your path. You have to do this! This is the closest thing to an action sequence the audience is going to get in most rom-coms, and it’s essential to get them reinvested in your happy ending before your big, perfect “I love you” speech. A speech that, while often flawed and totally clichéd, is, after your epic run, still pretty freakin’ satisfying.

Published at Wed, 13 Feb 2019 22:30:00 +0000