I love romantic comedies. Every Christmas, my mother and I are those people who watch “Love, Actually.” And I”m not ashamed to admit I saw “He’s Just Not That Into You”and “Mamma Mia!” in theaters. Twice. This might be a surprising revelation if you’re familiar with my criticism – I care deeply about female characters and am especially skeptical of films that write them poorly (by unnecessarily raping them, or killing them, or, I don’t know, turning them into passive sex robots). Romantic comedies are some of the worse perpetrators of such lazy screenwriting: Their heroines often want nothing more than heterosexual love, often with mediocre, misogynistic men, even if it costs them their jobs, their friends, or their sanity. But I’m not here to justify my unlikely love of romantic comedies – I’m here to offer you one that is quite nearly flawless.
“Ibiza,” Netflix’s latest original production directed by Alex Richanbach, follows Harper (Gillian Jacobs, dreamy), an emotionally reserved New Yorker trapped in a soulless PR job with her cuntacular boss, Sarah (show-stealer Michaela Watkins). Sarah sends Harper on a trip to Spain to woo some clients – it’s unclear why, exactly, Harper is the perfect woman for the job, but Sarah (whose meanness is often overshadowed by her gut-bustingly brilliant lines) says it has something to do with Harper’s “vagina energy” – and off she goes. Harper’s best buds Leah (Phoebe Robinson) and Nikki (Vanessa Bayer) jump at the chance to tag along and let loose, and the three women soon find themselves embroiled in a world of excessive wealth, hot guys, and more alcohol than any human being should physically be able to drink. When Harper has a run-in with superfamous EDM DJ Leo West (Richard Madden, dreamy AND Scottish), the two hit it off despite their obvious differences – according to Harper, she doesn’t even like “EMD music” – and Harper’s friends convince her to pursue him.
Said pursuit takes the BFFs all the way to Ibiza, and they evade a knife-wielding wife, nearly shit in the street, and take so many drugs in the process. Their hijinks are your typical raunchy comedy fare, albeit with a decidedly female bend (said knife-wife is after Leah because her husband ate Leah out in a hot tub, for example) and drenched in cinematographer Daniel Moder’s understated neon hues. “Ibiza” is far more grounded than your typical raunch-com, and not just because of its romantic themes. Funny or Die alum Lauryn Kahn’s screenplay expertly downplays physical comedy in favor of drawn-out reactions and snappy comebacks, making the film’s few slapstick moments (often charmingly executed by Vanessa Bayer) actually laugh-worthy. Perhaps the best encapsulation of this is the film’s absolute lack of projectile vomiting, a well-worn raunch-com trope that, although perfectly fitting for the amount of alcohol consumed in this film, is often a cheap grab at gross-out laughs.
Plus, even though the women get into plenty of unrealistic situations, they’re so likable and relatable that their chaotic adventure feels solid. One of the film’s most hilarious moments comes when Leah has to corral Harper and Nikki who, after an all-night party, are too fucked up to walk. Vanessa tries to order room service outside while Harper drops into a squat to take a shit, and you can’t help but laugh your ass off – even if you’ve never personally been any of the women in that situation.
But for all its female-centered genius, “Ibiza” sets itself apart with its insanely likable heterosexual romance. Gillian Jacobs is absolutely winning as the awkward, oversharing Harper, so it’s affirming to see her get a love interest that gives that fumbling affection back just as strongly. Harper leaves Leo an awkward voicemail but gets to delete it. Leo, in turn, ends up leaving her an excruciating voicemail that ends with the adorably cringeworthy send-off, “lots of love.” The film’s drama doesn’t come from Harper and Leo’s relationship – there’s no pettiness or manipulation behind it, just two people who are really into each other. How gobsmackingly refreshing to see a man who’s unashamed of feeling heart-fluttering, embarrassment-inducing affection for a woman! If all men treated women with the kind of unreserved awe Leo shows Harper, I truly believe that the world would be at peace. Sure, the bar is subterranean levels of low, but still, how exhilarating to see it cleared.
“Ibiza” isn’t perfect – Leah occasionally wavers into Sassy Black Friend territory, and a few laughs don’t land – but as far as heterosexual romantic comedies go, it’s pretty damn close. Everyone feels genuine affection for one another, whether shown through Leo and Harper’s romantic connection or Harper, Nikki, and Leah’s platonic one, and none of it is couched in cheap jokes or petty insecurities. Everybody just feels their feelings, no matter how complicated or messy, and it’s absolutely lovely to watch.
“Ibiza” might sell itself as “Bridesmaids”-on-a-Eurotrip, but the movie is ultimately more serious – and, I argue, more profound – than other female-led, bawdy buddy flicks. You might start this film expecting a riotous night with some of the most underrated women in comedy, but you’ll soon find yourself invested in a mesmerizing story of partnership and personal growth. That expertly crafted narrative, plus the unavoidably crush-worthy Gillian Jacobs and Richard Madden, will keep everyone coming back to this movie for years. [A]