Isn’t It Romantic? Inside the Resurgence of the Beloved Rom-Com

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About two weeks after Netflix released its hit summer romantic comedy “Set It Up,” screenwriter Dana Fox got a call to dust off an old rom-com screenplay — because the genre was back, baby!

After successes like “The Wedding Date,” “What Happens in Vegas” and “How to Be Single,” Fox went through years of struggle to get a rom-com made in the era of superhero blockbusters. But between Netflix and the surge of love for “Crazy Rich Asians,” the often-mocked genre is cool again — and Fox’s latest script, “Isn’t It Romantic,” hopes to ride the wave.

“I had been beaten up by studios so many times when I was trying to get movies made. I was told ‘we’re not making romantic comedies right now. It’s just not happening,’” Fox told TheWrap.

The meta Rebel Wilson comedy, which both embraces and mocks rom-com tropes, will try to ride the waft of love in the air left over from Valentine’s Day. Fox wrote the script with Erin Cardillo and “Set It Up” scribe Katie Silberman.

Also Read: ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ Film Review: Rebel Wilson’s Rom-Com Satire Scores Laughs But Lacks Bite

Fox and Silberman said they wanted to have their cake and eat it too, with a film that truly respects the genre while poking fun at it.

“These are literally some of our favorite movies,” Fox said.

Some people love rom-coms and some love to hate them, the feel-good, often cliché films that are one of Hollywood’s oldest standbys. After a 10-year drought of reliable rom-com hits, the cycle has come around again.

At one point, Fox said she would pitch her films to studios as any genre other than rom-coms, even when they were definitely rom-coms.

“Crazy Rich Asians” screenwriter Peter Chiarelli even questioned whether Nora Ephron could get “When Harry Met Sally…” made today — “probably, but it might be tough,” he said.

“Studio heads don’t even want you to call their movies rom-coms,” said Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “It just became a dirty word.”

Hollywood rekindled its love affair with rom-coms last summer. The breakout success of “Crazy Rich Asians” and the cultural-conversation dominating Netflix films “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and “Set It Up” sculpted a narrative that romantic comedies had, like so many of the characters do in their final acts, made their inevitable score-swelling run through the streets and back into the hearts of their long-lost loves — in this case, audiences.

“Crazy Rich Asians” grossed $174.5 million at the domestic box office. The film was only the fifth romantic comedy to gross more than $100 million at the box office since 2009, when “The Proposal” ($164.0 million) and “It’s Complicated” ($112.7 million) both crossed the mark.

Hollywood has had some romantic successes in the last decade with films like “Valentine’s Day” ($110.5 million), “Silver Linings Playbook” ($132.1 million) and “Trainwreck” ($110.2 million).

But the new talk of a rom-com resurgence came after the one-two punch of Netflix’s “Set It Up” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” — Netflix’s most-streamed film of 2018, according to the company, which doesn’t reveal complete numbers.

Around 2009, as Marvel’s cinematic universe began its now decade-long journey and Hollywood turned its focus toward big-budget films with blockbuster potential, studios began to shy away from mid-budget movies, including rom-coms.

“It certainly hasn’t been the genre people have been chasing for the last 10 years. They’re not going to make $300 million,” Chiarelli told TheWrap. “I wish I wrote superhero movies, or horror movies.”

“Crazy Rich Asians,” however, has actually come close. The film, which had a production budget of $30 million, has pulled in $238.5 million worldwide.

Like it’s done for indies and a number of mid-budget genres, Netflix has changed the economics of making and releasing romantic comedies. Silberman said “Set It Up” received a lot of positive responses from studios before its release, but that they just weren’t willing or able to make it work.

Executives at Netflix, on the other hand, simply saw a movie they’d want to see and wouldn’t have to worry about selling to audiences.

“They went out of their way to say we want to make classic romantic comedies again,” Silberman said.

Netflix’s co-heads of Original Independent Film, Matt Brodlie and Ian Bricke, told TheWrap that they’re always looking for movies with a well-defined audience. Netflix has already honed in on stand-up comedy specials, teen comedies, independent dramas and sci-fi flicks; and Hollywood left an opening for romantic comedies.

Also Read: ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ Sequel Officially a Go at Netflix

“We’re always looking for movies that will work well for a defined audience, whether it’s a genre, or arthouse film, or foreign language — it should be something that can cross-over and reach a lot of people,” Brodlie and Bricke said in an email. “So, when we were building our slate, we asked ourselves, ‘What genres feel like opportunities?’ Rom-coms were huge for studios in the past, and that type of movie isn’t made much anymore. But, they’re heavily watched on Netflix. Our hunch was there was an appetite for more — and we were right!

“We’re thrilled with the success of ‘The Kissing Booth,’ ‘Set It Up,’ and ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,’ and we’re excited to continue to bring films such as ‘The Breaker Upperers,’ ‘Someone Great’ and ‘The Perfect Date’ to our members.”

In addition to “Someone Great,” starring Gina Rodriguez and Lakeith Stanfield, “The Breaker Upperers” and “The Perfect Date,” Hollywood is pumping out a host of new rom-coms, including “Last Christmas” with Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, “The Rosie Project” and “Long Shot.”

So far, 2019 has already given the box office three romantic comedies in “Isn’t It Romantic,” “Under the Eiffel Tower” and the “What Women Want” reimagining, “What Men Want.”

Paramount’s “What Men Want,” which was produced for $20 million, had a $22.0 million opening weekend, and “Isn’t It Romantic” is expected to open similarly, with $20.9 million, according to analysts at Box Office Pro.

Also Read: Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen Navigate Politics, Love and Weed in ‘Long Shot’ Trailer (Video)

But not every romance begins beautifully: “Under the Eiffel Tower,” an indie released by The Orchard, opened in just 11 theaters and pulled in roughly $4,000.

Dergarabedian points out that simply because “Crazy Rich Asians” and other films succeeded recently doesn’t mean the genre is bullet-proof. Romantic comedies are fairly cheap and can be easily profitable, but they have to be good, Dergarabedian said.

Still, the future of the genre looks brighter now than it has in recent years.

“It’s changed significantly,” Silberman said. “You know, the way it always does in this industry when something works and gets people excited.”

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‘Isn’t It Romantic’ Film Review: Rebel Wilson’s Rom-Com Satire Scores Laughs But Lacks Bite

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Satirizing a genre as you’re fully embracing it isn’t the easiest feat and is perhaps impossible. It’s true that every good satire is also in some way a love letter to its source material, but love it a little too much, and the Valentine’s card becomes onion-thin with the prim bite of a paper cut. Todd Strauss-Schulson’s rom-com sendup “Isn’t It Romantic” is one of those satires that wants to have its Valentine’s chocolates and eat them too.

This story, about a woman who hits her head and is thrown into a rom-com world of cliché and improbability, may abide by the rules of the genre too closely to function as a critique, and it’s a shame, because it’s almost there. Writers Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox (“How to Be Single”) and Katie Silberman (“Set It Up”) hold back from really making a statement, opting instead to adhere to a tried-and-true format.

After Amy Schumer’s woman-hits-her-head-and-believes-she’s-beautiful “self-empowerment” narrative in “I Feel Pretty,” there really couldn’t have been a better time for a parodical version of the story. There’s also the fact that rom-coms have been in high demand as of late, which makes a cautionary reminder of the genre’s shortcomings very pertinent. Here, Australian comic actor Rebel Wilson plays Natalie, a New York architect whose main job is getting coffee, designing parking garages, and generally getting grief from her boss and colleagues. “Architect” is absolutely the kind of job a character in a rom-com would have, and it would be the dummy version that doesn’t take into account that most architects are just doing the grunt work of building. Natalie’s the slightly more realistic version, albeit apparently living in a time where architects are still hand-drafting construction plans.

Watch Video: Rebel Wilson’s ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ Trailer Spoofs Every Rom-Com Cliche – But Still Has Shirtless Liam Hemsworth

When Natalie’s best friend and assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin, “GLOW”) tries to get Natalie to recognize the value of romantic comedies, Natalie’s ready with a long list of gripes — the protagonist is always adorably tripping on things, there’s always a slow-motion scene of someone running to break up a wedding — and these will (obviously) act as the blueprint for Natalie’s journey through rom-com world when she eventually hits her head. This is the first sign the film will be more formula than critique.

Rom-com world is bright and airy and pretty. Production designer Sharon Seymour (“Argo”) seems to have studied every open floor-plan of every Nancy Meyers home and office and faithfully recreated them, but, honestly, she could have gone a little further. The humor in her designs relies upon one knowing the cliché of rom-com characters somehow always working in giant, marble-floored offices with glass-enclosed conference rooms. It’s easy not even to notice the visual gag, because we’ve been trained for so long to see it as normal. And this critique of just not going far enough can be translated to other areas of the film.

Also Read: Rebel Wilson Apologizes to Mo’Nique for Calling Herself the First Plus-Size Rom-Com Star

Leah Katznelson’s costuming, which is also pitch-perfectly attuned to the rom-com world, consists of some very finely tailored garments to glamorously flatter Wilson. But there’s also a missed opportunity there for some visual gags, which I don’t blame on either Seymour or Katznelson but rather on director Strauss-Schulson (“The Final Girls”), who’s playing it safe, seemingly trying not to alienate the hardcore rom-com fans. David Wain’s “They Came Together” already proved you can have a sweet romance with extremely silly comedy, though.

The best gag comes from rom-com world’s cloying PG-13-ness. Natalie goes on a date with the debonair Blake (Liam Hemsworth), who whisks her away to dinner on his yacht before heading back to Natalie’s apartment. Natalie’s decided she’s gonna roll with the rom-com thing because at least she can get laid by a handsome man. Unfortunately, the world won’t let her partake in the actual act, as both the film and Natalie’s life hard-cut to the morning after. That’s a smart jab at the prudishness of movie romances.

Also Read: The Romantic Comedy Isn’t Dead – It’s Just Gotten Raunchier

Occasionally, the subtle gags are enough to elicit a chuckle. Music supervisor Maggie Phillips seems to have mined through every aughts rom-com music catalogue to find exactly the song that’s been used more than 15 times in a CW soap opera. In one throwaway establishing drone shot that soars over a bridge to depict the bustling city of New York, Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” plays, and it’s easy to imagine Strauss-Schulson and Phillips getting a dark kick out of recreating such a ubiquitous and banal pairing of American cinematic scene and music.

Still, neither the romantic nor the comedy portions of this movie are firing on all cylinders. Strauss-Schulson falls back on the technique of shooting “loving glances” to relay the developing love between Natalie and co-worker Josh (Adam Devine). And he uses them in both the realistic section and the fantasy satirical sections of the film, so it doesn’t seem to be a critical statement on them.

Very rarely have I wished for more improvisation from a comic film, but this is one of those times; perhaps that could have revealed some chemistry between Wilson and Devine, who are generally hilarious performers. The one person who seems to be giving it their all every frame is Hemsworth, who hams it up as the charming Mr. Wrong. If Gilpin had more than a couple scenes, she likely would have been a more formidable presence as well, but that’s not saying a lot when the leads have the least interesting dialogue.



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Lamorne Morris’ Honest Pitch for ‘Game Night’: You’ve Already Seen ‘Black Panther’ (Video)

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“New Girl” actor Lamorne Morris has a very good reason for movie lovers to turn out for his new comedy “Game Night” this weekend.

“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen on screen, and besides, you will already have seen ‘Black Panther’ the week before,” Morris told TheWrap’s Stuart Brazell. “So you may as well go see this one afterwards.”

Morris also hinted that the off-camera high jinks of the cast — which includes Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams and Michael C. Hall — was almost as wild as what appeared on screen.

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“Billy Magnussen, he’s a wild one,” Morris noted. “It’s almost like we could have filmed our regular game nights and that would have been a movie in itself.”

“Game Night,” directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (“Vacation”), follows a group of couples who gather for their regularly planned game night when something goes horribly wrong. Mark Perez wrote the script.

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TheWrap’s Alonso Duralde gave “Game Night” a positive review, writing that the film is “fast and funny, filled with memorable characters, and able to balance slapstick and violence without spilling too far in either direction.”

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TV Agent Sean Grumman Joins WME

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Television talent agent Sean Grumman has joined WME after abruptly leaving CAA last week, TheWrap has learned.

The rep for actors like Golden Globe winning “The Affair” actress Ruth Wilson had been with the agency for roughly 15 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Last week, TheWrap exclusively reported that Grumman was escorted out of the agency’s Century City, Calif., offices by security, one of the insiders added.

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In addition to Wilson, Grumman’s high-profile client list includes “The Hunger Games” actor Donald Sutherland,  and “This Is Us” star and renewed heartthrob Milo Ventimiglia and “Kingdom” star Frank Grillo. He was also on agency teams representing “The Walking Dead” star Norman Reedus and actress Nina Dobrev.

It is not clear yet whether his entire client list will follow Grumman to CAA although many are expected to.

Also Read: Longtime WME Agent Cliff Roberts Exits Agency

Last month, longtime WME agent Cliff Roberts exited the agency and was rumored to end up at CAA, however, a rep for the agency didn’t return a request for comment.

Roberts has a client list that includes Oscar-winning co-writer and director Adam McKay (“The Big Short”), Rawson Thurber (“Central Intelligence”) and Morten Tyldum (“Passengers”), and writers such as Seth Grahame Smith, Carlton Cuse, Mark L. Smith, Anthony Peckham and Dana Fox.

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