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ISN'T IT ROMANTIC

About The Production
NATALIE
My life's become a mother (bleep) romantic comedy. And it's PG-13!

Imagine waking up in a world where everything and everyone is beautiful, and love and flowers are blooming all around. For most, it would be a dream. For Natalie, it's a nightmare.

A romantic comedy about romantic comedies, "Isn't It Romantic" stars Rebel Wilson as Natalie, who, once upon a time, believed in those blissful happy endings...until her cynical mother burst her bubble.

Director Todd Strauss-Schulson offers, "As a kid, Natalie very much believed in idealistic love-love songs, love stories and, of course, rom-coms. But her mother, who had a different experience of life, tells Natalie that love doesn't work out like it does in the movies...especially for people like them."

As if living up to her mother's worst expectations, Natalie grew up to be a jaded adult who considers rom-coms to be little more than, as she puts it, "lies set to terrible pop songs." An architect living in New York City, she has resigned herself to the real world, where the city streets are more likely lined with garbage than flowers, and men are more apt to sweep past her than sweep her off her feet. But she is about to be given an unexpected, and wholly unwelcome, new perspective on both life and love.

"She is mugged in the subway, and when she wakes up, her whole life has been transformed into an idealized romantic comedy," Strauss-Schulson relates. "New York is suddenly the most beautiful, sparkling clean city; her apartment is ridiculously huge and ostentatious; every man is attracted to her; and everyone thinks she's great. Ironically, Natalie f'ing hates it. Through the whole movie she is trying to get back to her real life, and the way she thinks she can do that is the way virtually all typical romantic comedies end: to get a guy to fall in love with her."

Wilson, who also served as an executive producer on the project, says, "It was a really interesting premise, and one I could really relate to because I used to hate romantic comedies; I thought they were so dumb. I was just in a different place in my life. But during the development of this film, I got to watch all the classic rom-coms and realized I was so wrong about them; they are fantastic. I love that in 'Isn't It Romantic' we get to pay homage to all those great romantic comedies, but it also reflects my point of view. It's for people who hate romantic comedies but also for those who love them-it's for people on both ends of the spectrum and everyone in-between."

The original concept for the film grew out of a meeting between screenwriter Erin Cardillo and married producing partners Gina Matthews and Grant Scharbo. Matthews recalls, "There was no script at that point, so Erin pitched us the idea, and we thought it was amazing."

Cardillo remarks, "Gina had produced 'What Women Want' and '13 Going on 30,' which both have that element of magic in them, so I felt it would be a great fit for them." Cardillo, who is also credited with the story, is one of a triumvirate of women writers behind the screenplay, also including Dana Fox and Katie Silberman.

To bring the script to the screen, the producers chose Strauss-Schulson, who, Scharbo notes, already had some practice with turning a popular genre on its ear. "He had done 'Final Girls,' which deconstructed horror films in much the same way that we are deconstructing the romantic comedy genre. So he knows how to highlight these tropes and twist them around to create a fun, new experience for audiences."

Todd Garner, who came on board to produce "Isn't It Romantic" with Matthews and Scharbo, agrees. "I was already a huge fan of Todd's work. I think he has a great ear for comedy and a wonderful visual style, and he had a tremendous passion for this project."

The director's passion was evident in his extensive prep for the film. Strauss-Schulson reveals, "Before I started this movie, I watched every romantic comedy made from 1988 to 2007. I sat in my apartment for two weeks and truly watched every one of them. I went a little crazy, 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. Now I can teach a course on them," he jokes. "The idea was to crack the code and see what patterns, symbols and images were used over and over again. I wanted to sort of break the genome of the genre and isolate the textures so that I could rebuild them into something modern and fresh for our movie. I always thought of 'Isn't It Romantic' like pop art, and we could use familiar pop forms to subvert and deepen the genre. I wanted to make something authentic yet irreverent."

"Todd was a walking encyclopedia of rom-coms; I was blown away by his enthusiasm," says Wilson. "The first time I walked into the production office, he had wallpapered it with all these images from romantic comedies. And if you look closely, there are so many nods to those classic movies in our film, which I think is really special. And the message of the film is something everybody needs to hear every now and again."

Strauss-Schulson expands, "So many of these movies tell us that we are incomplete without someone else...and if we find 'true love' all our problems will be solved and loneliness will be banished. But it's a lie. So many of these love stories see the solution as outside of ourselves, but the truth is we're already complete. And that is the heart of this movie, but it's done in a very clever, zany way."

"It's a romantic comedy that is also a send-up of romantic comedies," says Matthews. "It brings out all the little tropes that, whether you love them or hate them, we hope will make you laugh. But in the end, it still celebrates the genre."

"And with Rebel bringing her distinctive voice to this endeavor," says Scharbo, "it makes it a little more edgy, and a little more unexpected and fun to watch."

Joining Wilson in the ensemble cast are Liam Hemsworth, Adam Devine, Priyanka Chopra, Betty Gilpin, Brandon Scott Jones and Jennifer Saunders.

It has become something of a cliche to say that a location or setting is a character in a film, but, inarguably, New York City plays a pivotal role in "Isn't It Romantic." Strauss-Schulson says, "I'm from New York, I love New York, my parents are from New York, one of the big dreams of my life was to shoot a movie in my home town. Beyond that, because the story takes place in two very different incarnations of the city, real world and rom-com dream world, I could bring an intense visual aesthetic to it and really world build. As a filmmaker, that's very inspiring."

THE CAST
Ignored, intimidated and all but invisible, Natalie never would have imagined herself as the type to star in her own romantic comedy. Rebel Wilson acknowledges, "She is kind of your everyday girl who is living her life, but she is not really believing in love and has trouble asserting herself. Then she gets flung into a romantic comedy world where she is flooded with love and praise, but rather than embracing it, she is desperate to escape."

Strauss-Schulson adds, "Natalie, who is not even the leading lady in her own life, suddenly finds herself the star of an idealized version of her life. In a way, there is a parallel with Rebel. She has always been the funniest part of any movie she's in, but she truly comes centerstage in this film. The entire story circles around her character and Rebel totally crushes it."

Matthews agrees. "Romantic comedies do create a false expectation of what life should be, and I think Rebel redefines that in this film. It allows women and girls to believe they can be the star of their own movie, no matter what their particular obstacles are, and I believe that's Rebel's greatest power."

At work, Natalie has been relegated to designing the seemingly unimportant parking garages of others' buildings. And in a meeting with the firm's handsome new client, Blake, she can't even begin her pitch before being booted out to get coffee. Liam Hemsworth says he enjoyed playing both sides of his character, who, when we first meet him, "is an arrogant, rich prick," the actor admits.

In the real world, Blake is an American businessman who looks right through Natalie, except to snatch her cup right out of her hand, assuming she's nothing but some office lackey delivering coffee. But when he shows up in the rom-com world, Blake is all-of-a-sudden Australian...and instantly smitten with Natalie, whom he endlessly refers to as "beguiling." Hemsworth confirms, "He is completely over-the-moon, in love with her. Blake thinks Natalie is the cream of the crop, the bees' knees, if you will. You think he's this rich, charismatic guy-the cliche romantic lead-but as the story goes on, he gets crazier and crazier. So we had a lot of room to just have fun with the character."

Strauss-Schulson offers, "Part of what Liam liked about playing Blake is it gave him the space to be this goofy caricature of the prototypical heartthrob who goes from charming hunk to the most annoying idiot you've ever met. People might not automatically think of Liam as being funny, but he is actually hilarious in real life. It was great watching him do this role, he was cracking himself and all of us up on set, and I think you can feel it in the movie."

"Liam had never really done comedy before," Wilson adds, "but I think he just smashed it out of the park. He is so good."

The feeling is mutual. "I have always been a big fan of hers and getting to act alongside her was wonderful," says Hemsworth.

Adam Devine stars as Natalie's colleague and dearest friend, Josh, who is steadfastly supportive of her...in both worlds. "He is the only one already in Natalie's life who stays basically the same," Devine comments. "Josh is her best friend, always looking out for her and encouraging her. He's just a really good dude."

Playing the closest of friends came naturally to Devine and Wilson, who had collaborated several times before, most memorably in the "Pitch Perfect" films. Strauss-Schulson, who had also directed Devine in his critically acclaimed cult film "The Final Girls," observes, "They have an effortless chemistry together, so it was an easy choice to cast Adam as Josh."

As Natalie's assistant, Whitney, puts it, Natalie has a habit of "friend-zoning" Josh, even though it is obvious to anyone with eyes that his feelings for her go deeper. "She always cuts herself off from finding love," Devine attests. "It takes getting trapped in a romantic comedy for her to realize that she might have a good thing right in front of her."

Too late. Just as Natalie begins to see Josh in a new light, he has a classic rom-com meet-cute with Isabella, a stunningly beautiful model whose sexy billboard-directly across from Natalie's office window-Josh has seemingly been ogling for months.

Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who plays Isabella, reveals, "Josh and Isabella meet by chance when he sees her choking on, of all things, a cupcake. Josh saves her life with the Heimlich technique and instantly becomes her knight in shining armor. I had a lot of fun with Isabella-finding ways of making her extremely elitist and spoiled...but in a really sweet way," she laughs.

"She calls herself a 'yoga ambassador,'" Chopra Jonas continues. "There is no such thing as a yoga ambassador, so you immediately understand the kind of character she is. She acts like everything is peace and harmony...even though it isn't." And true to romantic comedy form, the actress adds, "There is never one hair out of place and she always dresses like she is stepping out of a fashion magazine. To Josh, Isabella is what dream girls are made of-a rich, hot supermodel who is madly in love with him."

"The idea that one of the most beautiful women in the world is so desperately head-over-heels gaga-googoo in love with lughead Josh that she thinks he is out of her league was hilarious to me," says Strauss-Schulson. "And Priyanka is amazing as Isabella. She had a great take on the character-that she would be Natalie's romantic arch-nemesis, not by being mean or aggressive but by being the nicest, most perfect yoga ambassador."

Two familiar romantic comedy tropes are personified in the roles of Natalie's coworker Whitney, played by Betty Gilpin, and her neighbor Donny, played by Brandon Scott Jones.

In the real world, Whitney is Natalie's loyal assistant, who is more likely to be watching a romantic comedy on her computer than doing any actual work. But in Natalie's alternate universe, "Whitney is Natalie's mortal enemy," Gilpin asserts. "She transforms into the cliche evil bitch at work, whose objective in life is to destroy the career ambitions of her wonderful female colleague for no reason. In these movies, there can be no confusion about who is the woman who deserves love and happiness and who is just doomed."

Donny does an equally startling 180-degree turn: from Natalie's rude neighbor who closes the door in her face to her outgoing and outrageously flamboyant friend and confidante. With no discernable personal life of his own, his sole purpose seems to be popping up at exactly the right moments to offer words of wisdom.

"The gay best friend is a total trope of the romantic comedy world," says Jones, who reveals that he and Strauss-Schulson discussed at length how to strike a balance in his performance, between character and caricature but leaning a little toward the latter. "Donny is openly gay and very proud, but we were obviously aware that we were making him a stereotype- one that is probably truer of slightly older movies now that we're thankfully getting more progressive. But we tried to have fun with it and just own the stereotype. Our main goal was to make Donny a positive force in Natalie's life, which is so important. He's like a wise sage who knows exactly what she should do."

"Isn't It Romantic" opens with a flashback to Natalie's childhood, in which Jennifer Saunders, best known for her hilarious turn on the beloved British comedy series "Absolutely Fabulous," makes a cameo appearance as Natalie's pragmatic mother.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK
New York has been the backdrop for more than its share of romantic comedies, so it was only natural to set "Isn't It Romantic" in the Big Apple. Strauss-Schulson collaborated with his creative team to establish two dichotomous versions of the city-one grounded firmly in reality and the other a sanitized, vibrant milieu befitting a cinematic romp."

The director notes, "The idea was that in the first act of the story, it should feel as little like a glossy studio movie as possible. That meant capturing the loud multicultural chaos of the city I grew up in and love so much. The colors are desaturated and there is almost no movie score, just the music coming from the cars, bodegas, street performers and boomboxes. In the rom-com world, everything looks produced-very slick and polished-almost hyper-cinematic, and there is a musical score playing all the time."

Strauss-Schulson and cinematographer Simon Duggan utilized cameras, lenses and lighting to emphasize the separation, shooting the real world in spherical and the rom-com world in anamorphic. Duggan explains, "The beginning of the film takes place in a very gritty New York, with time spent on the city streets and in the subway, so the photography is handheld, a little bit grainy, and without a lot of color. After Natalie wakes up and finds herself stuck in a romantic comedy, we had complete license to create the visuals we wanted, taking cues from previous films in our choice of locations and color palettes, like the exaggerated blue moonlight."

Natalie lives in the melting pot of Corona, Queens, "Corona is 10 minutes from where I grew up. I wanted it to feel exactly how it feels in real life for the first part of the movie," says Strauss-Schulson. "In rom-com world though, it was exciting to transform a practical location into a romantic dream of itself."

Production designer Sharon Seymour details, "We did almost nothing to her street, except we did bring in more garbage. Then we took pictures of each storefront on the street and 'assigned' it a romantic comedy alternate. For example, the cheap cell phone store becomes a charming bookstore; the barbershop turns into a cupcake store; the Dominican chicken place becomes a flower shop; and the 99-cent store is now a bridal shop. We picked a heightened pastel color scheme and went with it-everything on the street reflects some variation of that."

Natalie's home and office were also given total transformations. Seymour and her team turned Natalie's cramped, messy New York residence into a palatial apartment that no one in her job could possibly afford in real life. Built on a stage at Grumman Studios in Bethpage, the apartment showcases white furniture against Tiffany-blue walls; a chef's kitchen boasting high-end, stainless steel appliances; a gleaming bathroom with a tub big enough for two; and, of course, an enormous closet holding a fantastic collection of designer clothes, shoes and purses.

Similarly, Natalie's office starts out with dingy cubicles, cheap file cabinets, fluorescent lighting, and a tiny break kitchen, all built from scratch in an empty office building in Mount Vernon. Conversely, her "movie" office, constructed on a stage at Brooklyn's Steiner Studios, is a clean open-concept space with sleek furniture and floor-to-ceiling windows.

On location in New York, the filmmakers chose sites familiar to any movie fan, including Central Park's picturesque Bow Bridge, the nearby Bethesda Terrace, and the magnificent Bethesda Fountain. Based on his research, the director found it was also a prerequisite to have sets be full of half-moon windows and at least one long lens shot of the main character almost getting lost in the crowd walking down a busy New York sidewalk. Check and check.

Comparable to what happens to her home and office, Natalie undergoes a total wardrobe makeover. Costume designer Leah Katznelson offers, "We wanted Natalie's wardrobe to reflect not only her financial status but also her level of self-confidence. Initially, she does not have a lot of money and she's also not someone who wants to stand out, so her clothes start out as simple and quiet, in greys, black and navy. By contrast, when she enters the romantic comedy world, she is the visual center of every scene and her clothes are very striking. Rebel looks beautiful in strong colors-she can carry bright pink or yellow or a beautiful red." It's impossible not to notice that two of her costumes are a nod to those worn by Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman": the black and white dress, complete with the wide-brimmed black hat; and the red gown Natalie wears on her date with Blake.

The men in Natalie's life have more understated costume changes. Katznelson describes, "Josh is her constant in both worlds, so he had to look more-or-less the same. We suggested his subtle transition through the use of color and fit. He starts out in a dull, baggy striped polo shirt, and then we kept him in stripes, but in a more fitted T-shirt with more saturated colors. Blake also has a shift in color and fit. He exists in the real world in muddy-toned suits. When we switch to the romantic comedy world, he is immaculately tailored and tonally brighter and much more vibrant."

Katznelson also had fun designing for the colorful Donny, who has on a different outfit every time we see him, all in vivid hues and bold patterns. "He has a unique fashion sensibility and chooses looks styled for each day," she says.

Isabella is the one character who exists only in the fantasy realm, "so she is very soft and feminine, like a goddess who has fallen into Josh's life," the designer remarks.

MUSIC
From pop love songs to impromptu song and dance numbers, music plays a big part in romantic comedies. Likewise, music is an important element of "Isn't It Romantic," most notably in the big karaoke number that crops up at a pivotal moment in the story. Strauss-Schulson says, "One of the things about the script that was very appealing to me was doing a show-stopping song and dance sequence. And to have musical talents like Rebel, Adam and Priyanka for that piece was just a gift to a filmmaker. Priyanka is literally an international pop star; Adam has a terrific voice; and as for Rebel...she's really an amazing singer and dancer and she knows everything about musicals. That's her bread and butter."

Wilson confirms, "I love singing and dancing in movies, so when we were in development and the idea of a musical number came up, we all said, 'Of course!' For the song, we ended up choosing Whitney Houston's 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody,' which is such a fantastic party song. It was so much fun, not only because I got to share the stage again with Adam, but also with Priyanka, who is a huge star in Bollywood. Those two days of filming were a dream come true."

"I morphed back into 'Pitch Perfect' mode with me and Rebel," adds Devine. "We clicked right back into it and it was super fun."

The director and cast worked with Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli ("Newsies"), who also choreographed the dance in Central Park, Nick Kenkel choreographed the movie's grand finale.

Over the course of the film, other recognizable songs are interspersed with the score composed by John Debney. It wasn't just the pop songs, the score itself is a love letter to rom-coms. Strauss-Schulson and Debney worked hard to create essentially two scores. The director explains, "One was Natalie's score which would be authentic and emotional, and the other was the soundtrack of the rom-com world she's stuck in, which could be a little more eccentric. John had the great idea to have the rom-com score almost become a mix-tape referencing classic romances from the 40s by Max Steiner, Alfred Newman and Franz Waxman; Nancy Wilson's great scores from Cameron Crowe movies; Carly Simon's amazing music for 'Working Girl'; and the plucky scores of rom-coms from the late 1990s and early 2000s."

Strauss-Schulson also incorporated music behind the scenes "to set the tone and create a biosphere of enthusiasm and romance on set," he says. "It was important to have that kind of vibe on set because if the comedy ever became too mean-spirited or arch it could eclipse what is beautiful about romantic comedies, which is that they offer joy and charm and maybe even a bit of hope."

The director concludes, "'Isn't It Romantic' is easy, breezy and full of warmth. It was refreshing for all of us to make something that strives to capture and celebrate the good in life."

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