It’s Valentine’s Day weekend, and in the spirit of love, I am here to be the Daphne to Lainey’s Apollo and crush all her hopes and dreams about Marry Me, the rom-com starring Jennifer Lopez as
herself a popstar on the rebound and Owen Wilson as A Guy. I tried, I REALLY TRIED to get with this movie. I wanted to like it so much, because I love rom-coms, and I am here for the rom-com revival. And even though I think Lopez is better suited to roles like Karen Cisco in Out of Sight, in which the romance comes with action and mind games and puts plenty of tart in the sweet, I recognize that Lopez seems to love these types of movies and playing these sweet roles (that don’t really suit her). Her enthusiasm is obvious and makes up for a lot, but in the end, not even JLo’s charisma can overcome the many hurdles of Marry Me.
It starts with the casting. Lopez isn’t really suited to such innocuous fluff, but she can at least play the sh-t out of
herself Kat Valdez, a hit-factory popstar who longs for the acceptance of awards, despite legions of loyal fans. Kat’s latest hit is a song called “Marry Me”, a duet sung with her behind-the-music partner, Bastian (Maluma, not acting particularly well, but basically just being himself on screen). Kat and Bastian plan to marry on stage during a concert, only moments before they take the stage, Bastian is busted by Page Six for cheating on Kat with her assistant. Humiliated, Kat delivers a rousing speech on stage, the conclusion of which should be, “And so I don’t need to get married, because I am enough,” but what she REALLY does is point to some dope holding a sign in the audience and marry him to complete the bit.
And that’s where the casting fails, because Owen Wilson is not suited to being the dope in the audience. Owen Wilson has rascally energy that suggests an inner life slightly out of synch with his outer presentation, which is why he works great as one of Wes Anderson’s tortured boy-men. Owen Wilson is doing his best, but he actually compounds the issue with Lopez not being quite suited to such a role, either. Their chemistry isn’t bad, but they’re bringing out the latent Something in each other, making it seem like every interaction is loaded with some subtext, like a shootout ought to break out just around the corner, or she’s actually a spy and he’s her handler (THAT movie, I would watch ten times). Marry Me needs a real Everyman who can sell the earnestness and sweetness without the subtext—this movie needs Paul Rudd. He can play the silly surface without the sense of anything else going on, which would help dial in Lopez to a believable frequency, too.
Look, rom-coms are basically fantasies. That’s part of the allure of the genre. Guy meets girl, or girl meets girl, or they meets them, there’s a meet cute, a misunderstanding, a resolution, and all is well in the end. We’ve been telling these stories for basically ever. Fine. But the best rom-coms are grounded in some kernel of reality, a sense that the relationship could, if the stars aligned just so, actually happen. A famous actress could step into a bookstore and meet the regular guy of her dreams, a shop owner could make a connection online with the man trying to buy out her business, identities can be mistaken, the right person can be in the wrong place, and boom—romance happens.
But Marry Me pushes past the bounds of credulity, and unlike, say, While You Were Sleeping, which also stretches the outer limits of believability, Marry Me doesn’t have a winsome ensemble to push through the weak points and a wildly charming central couple to make you believe in the romance despite the absurdity of the situation. Lopez and Wilson, because they never seem quite in synch with the story they’re acting, just exacerbate the outlandishness of it all, and while the supporting players are decent enough—though Michelle Buteau does not get NEARLY enough screen time—the best part of the movie is during the credits. That is NEVER a good sign. (It’s the elder couple’s diaper joke, for the record.) And so, I cannot recommend Marry Me for your Valentine’s Day viewing. If you’re looking for “normie falls for a superstar” romance that is actually good—and exceedingly well cast—check out Starstruck on HBO Max. Or just watch Notting Hill, the best possible version of this particular story.
Marry Me is now in theaters and streaming on Peacock.