To say that Marry Me is a throwback to the star-driven, high-concept romantic comedies of the 2000’s is an understatement. Marry Me, starring Jennifer Lopez as a world-famous musician and Owen Wilson as the regular guy math teacher she marries on a whim, absolutely is a 2000’s-era studio rom-com. Save for a few references to social media, this film could have absolutely been made and released in 2004 with the same cast and the same raw materials. Okay, so Chloe Coleman (quickly building up a resume as a decidedly un-obnoxious child star) wasn’t born until 2008, but I could absolutely see this movie existing as is starring Lopez and Wilson (both now in their 50’s but barely looking out of their 30’s). That’s neither compliment nor criticism, save for that the Kat Coiro-directed flick feels no need to feel “up to the minute.”
The film is based upon a Japanese graphic novel published back in 2012. However, its inciting incident feels loosely sprung from an incident whereby Russell Brand texted Katy Perry to inform her he was filing for divorce right before the singer was about to begin a live concert, but that may be coincidence since the moment in question wasn’t public knowledge until the 2012 3-D Part of Me documentary. In this case, we have Kat Valdez about to get married on stage to her current beau (Maluma) only to discover (via an online news leak) that he’s been cheating on her. In a moment of raw emotion, she decides to bring up a random concertgoer (Wilson) holding up a “Marry Me” sign (it’s in relation to the hit song which propels the plot, and he’s only there to impress his daughter) and propose marriage.
In a skewed sense of wanting to help a woman clearly having a moment, Charlie says “Yes.” and thus begins what is intended to be a coldly transactional relationship. It may require a leap to buy that both seemingly level-headed parties would agree to this odd situation, but both have been burned by romance and are willing to treat this marriage as just a weird business arrangement. Their joint press conference is arguably the film’s highlight, where Wilson details the cold history of transactional marriage while Lopez argues that it should be the woman who dictates the terms and makes the husband ‘earn his keep.’ Yes, shocker, the film eventually becomes a more traditional romance (yes, you get your “hea”), but the moments where the film confronts the somewhat illusionary notions of love and marriage gives it a token amount of bite.
What I found more cynical than any of the conversations about divorce rates and daughters being treated as property is how it plays as both a movie and an advertisement for Lopez and Maluma’s respective musical careers. We get the title tune played a few times almost in full, and it’s no secret that Lopez is playing a very loosely fictionalized version of herself. While boasting strong production values and obvious entertainment value, the musical numbers sometimes feel less like organic in-film moments and more like glorified commercial breaks. And, even with the likely notion that Lopez was among those in charge of the package (she’s among the producers), I will note a slight despair at the notion of her needing to play a world-famous music star to bag a big-studio leading role. Here is hoping Shotgun Wedding (due June 29 from Lionsgate) lets her play a “regular person.”
All that said, our two stars have grounded and plausible chemistry, and it helps that Wilson looks spiffy and very much “a catch” as a gee-whiz divorced dad/schoolteacher. Sarah Silverman gets the conventional quirky best friend role, with the caveat that A) she’s openly gay which is nice and B) she’s the best friend to the male side of the equation and not the woman. John Bradley, who just last week saved us all in Moonfall, is terrific as Kat’s dedicated, decent and caring manager. I am curious if Jimmy Fallon, playing himself as the main representation of mainstream entertainment media, realizes that he’s playing a villain. If so, that’s some impressively Matt Damon-level self-awareness. Kat Coiro, who helmed the pilot for Peacock’s terrific Girls5Eva and is an executive producer on Marvel’s upcoming She-Hulk, gets the job done with polished visuals that do more than just point and click.
Yes, this film is also debuting concurrently on Peacock as well as in theaters this weekend. I’m not going to pretend that it demands a big screen, but if you like seeing movies like this in theaters (or even with the budget and production values of a conventional Hollywood movie), you could do worse than to check out Marry Me over Valentine’s Day weekend. It’s a perfectly okay rom-com, possibly graded on a slight curve due to their decade-long paucity. In a skewed way, the most subversive thing about it is that it’s not remotely deconstructionist or subversive. It’s a deeply old-fashioned star-driven rom-com that doesn’t apologize for itself or spend its running time trying to be “not your usual romantic comedy.” In a world where subversion and genre deconstruction are the mode of the day, Marry Me is almost daring by being unwilling to be par for the course.