Owen Wilson and Jennifer Lopez bring back the rom-com in this winsome, endearing romp.
There’s been a complete dearth of quality rom-coms in recent years, to the point that the bonkers premise for Marry Me probably has the casual viewer raising an eyebrow. Owen Wilson and Jennifer Lopez in a rom-com is the kind of elevator pitch that would probably headline in a movie in the mid-aughts, but viewers could hardly be blamed for assuming it falls somewhere between “fine” and “unwatchable disaster”. Yet despite the odds (and Wilson’s extremely unfortunate haircut), Marry Me is actually a delight.
Lopez stars as pop star Kat Valdez, whose new hit single, “Marry Me”, is a duet with her partner, fellow pop idol Bastian (Colombian pop star Maluma). The two are set to perform the song live immediately before exchanging their vows on stage in front of all their fans. So obviously, right before that happens, Kat discovers Bastian’s been cheating on her. Distraught and with multiple failed marriages behind her already, she takes the stage alone determined to do something different. That something different? Locking eyes with single dad Charlie (Wilson) and just… marrying him instead.
The reasons why this happens, or Charlie goes along with it, are pretty tough pills to swallow, but that doesn’t really matter in a film like this. In fact, it’s honestly not a whole lot stranger than some of the more off-the-wall romcoms of the chick flick heyday. I mean, Kate & Leopold anyone? Hell, the plot of While You Were Sleeping is objectively deranged.
Ads for the film have been touting it as “the return of the Queen of Rom-coms,” and honestly, even a diehard Meg Ryan fan like myself has to admit this is J.Lo in peak form. Playing something close to a version of herself, the role ends up being a space for her to do what she does best: turn up the charm, have a little fun, and (of course) sing a few shockingly catchy tunes for the soundtrack.
In some ways, it’s a nice departure from her earlier roles that often completely divorced her from who she really is, including downplaying her Puerto Rican heritage as much as possible. In Marry Me, her background isn’t the point, but it’s not erased, either, as it was in the particularly egregious case of The Wedding Planner (she plays an Italian for no discernible reason besides casual early aughts racism).
The failings of the 2000s aside, Marry Me does feel like a return to the most endearing films of the era. Shades of You’ve Got Mail and Maid in Manhattan are sprinkled throughout, even if Marry Me can’t quite match those highs.
Writers Harper Dill (The Mindy Project), John Rodgers (The Librarians, Catwoman), and Tami Sagher (Shrill) meet the extremely specific goals of rom-com writing well: The goal isn’t to be perfect (and to be absolutely clear, Marry Me isn’t), it’s to be charming and enjoyable. That’s where the film succeeds.
Where it fails is in adding substance and meat to its relationships, particularly when it comes to Charlie, who brings along his daughter, Lou (My Spy‘s Chloe Coleman). There’s some vague scene-building around the idea that Charlie isn’t fun enough and Lou is growing up enough to be embarrassed by him, but it’s never really fleshed out in a meaningful way. It’s the kind of conflict that only works if do whatever you can not to think too much about it.
But it’s hard to get too worked up about it when you consider the fact that somehow, some way, Wilson and Lopez actually leverage their movie-star charisma to sell Kat and Charlie’s unlikely romance. Early on, Kat gives a heartbreaking speech explaining that everything else she’s done has failed (so why is this stunt-like marriage any crazier?), and it works because Lopez knows how to sell the emotional heart of that moment. What unfolds is not actually a whirlwind romance but two people, brought together by the insane contrivances of the plot, who get to know each other over time and realize they actually like each other very much. What’s so crazy about that? (Again, aside from Wilson’s haircut.)
Lopez has a lucky scene partner in Wilson, who neither steals the movie nor feels as oddly cast as initial trailers might have made it seem. In some ways, he’s the perfect big name to pair with Lopez; his quiet, understated humor balances Lopez’s brio, rather than tamping it down. This is J.Lo’s movie, and Wilson is perfectly happy to be along for the ride.
Director Kat Coiro, whose work on the brilliant and hilarious Dead to Me set her up perfectly to tackle this script, understands two key things: the power of J.Lo’s star and the emotional honesty needed to make literally any minute of this work.
While it’s hardly a surefire addition to the rom-com canon, Marry Me is the kind of enjoyable fluff that’s been missing from movies. It’s a movie that asks very little of you and only wants to make you feel a little bit nicer, a little bit fuzzier in return. That’s a goal I can get behind.
Marry Me is currently playing in theaters and streaming on Peacock.