On paper, nothing about Marry Me should work.
The film is of a bygone era when frothy, earnest romantic comedies with quirky pairings and absurd premises roamed the theaters, racking up box office receipts the way only Spider-Man: No Way Home can seem to do today. This particular premise – music superstar hastily marries regular guy – reads stupid and cynical. It’s chemically engineered for eye rolls and mockery.
And yet, I spent most of Marry Me with a dumb smile on my face, utterly charmed by this tale of misplaced affection, insane celebrity behavior, hare-brained PR schemes, and mathlete competitions.
If that collection of traits sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is, and Marry Me isn’t ashamed of it. In the film, Jennifer Lopez plays pop superstar Kat Valdez, who turns one of her concerts into a massive PR wedding stunt to promote her new single “Marry Me” with fellow pop star Bastian (Maluma). She also happens to loves Bastian, but a video of him cheating hits the Internet just as she’s hitting the stage to perform the song and marry him. Humiliated but resilient, Kat makes the rash and foolish decision to pick some random guy from the crowd and marry him instead. That man is Owen Wilson’s Charlie Gilbert, a math teacher holding a “Marry Me” sign by mere coincidence.
Because Charlie is a nice guy and doesn’t want to embarrass Kat, he agrees to the wedding stunt. Because Kat doesn’t want to be a late-night punchline, she decides to stay married to him. The two form a PR arrangement, where they do interviews and post content to Instagram long enough for the news cycle to end, and they can go back to their lives.
Any human being who’s ever watched a rom-com knows Kat and Charlie will not be “going back to their lives.” Marry Me isn’t interested in breaking or subverting the genre’s conventions. The film is comfortable in its predictability and absurdity. The characters are thinly drawn, the rules are arbitrary, the scenarios defy logic, and the clichés run wild. (You get everything from the “getting to know you” montage to the airport run.) You know what you’re getting, and once you accept the conceit, it’s easy to get swept up in the romantic chaos.
That is all because of Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson, the source of Marry Me’s power, purpose, and value. Neither of their roles is an acting stretch. Lopez is a pop superstar with a huge social media following. It’s easy to see Wilson as a math-loving Brooklynite that thinks TikTok is a rather lame clock reference. All the film needs from them is to be exceedingly likable and effortlessly charming, and they both hit those marks hard, especially Lopez. She is undeniable here, with that potent mix of otherworldly presence and casual relatability that makes her an invaluable asset to the genre. Wilson can similarly do “aw shucks” in his sleep, but he plays Charlie with a clear-eyed pragmatism and intelligence that makes his surrender to Kat’s (and Lopez’s) fantasy genuinely moving.
Wilson and Lopez’s individual success isn’t surprising; their success as a romantic couple is. Their presumably clashing energies fit well together, in a “tilt your head to the side and nod” kind of way. Their comedic rhythm and easy rapport make them very cute to watch. Even their somewhat awkward physicalities, especially the kissing, work in the couple’s favor. The plot’s standard, predictable contrivances are easy to forgive when they’re practically glowing on-screen together. You want Charlie and Kat to work out their clear differences, stick with this marriage of idiotic convenience, and find real, less ridiculous happiness.
If only Marry Me could get out of their way. The film may not reshape the rom-com canon, but it does seek to serve multiple objectives. Despite its Gen X leads, the film insists on its relevance to younger generations, to obnoxious effect. Director Kat Coiro loads the film with frequent intrusive visual markers of social media, splitting the screen into Instagram Live and TikTok mockups at every opportunity. Just as frequent is the product placement, from GUESS and Vitamix to various NBCUniversal properties. (Jimmy Fallon appears so much he’s basically a supporting character.) None of these attempts to ground the film in the modern realities of celebritydom are graceful enough to succeed.
Marry Me also wants to be a meta-commentary on Lopez’s career. The film references the star’s life in ways that aren’t coincidences: her multiple marriages, her struggles to be taken seriously as an artist, even a pointed callback to her Oscars snub for Hustlers. Marry Me isn’t the first film to do this, but it doesn’t have anything particularly illuminating to say. Does Kat (and Jennifer) deserve better from society? Absolutely, but instead of pushing that obvious insight into her character development, it instead falls into standard rom-com tropes that actually undercut it. The script, written by John Rogers, Tami Sagher, and Harper Dill, isn’t savvy or clever enough to balance being a by-the-numbers rom-com with those more complicated (and interesting) discussions.
Even outside of the romantic season, loving Marry Me is effortless. Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson are adorable together, and their spark papers over the film’s weaknesses or lack of imagination or sense. Marry Me may feel like a film from a lost era, when Lopez ruled with films like The Wedding Planner and Maid in Manhattan, but it does make a case for a comeback. With Lopez at the helm, of course.
Marry Me is currently streaming on Peacock.