'Marry Me' isn't an instant rom-com classic, but its two lead performances are so charming that it's easy to be won over.
- - Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson are as charismatic as ever
- - Feels like a throwback, in good ways
- - Wilson especially is engaged with the material
- - Like most rom-coms, there's not a ton of suspense or concern of the story's conclusion
- - The third angle of the love triangle is pretty forgettable
- - The comic relief is a mixed bag
The new romantic comedy Marry Me, starring Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson, is full of references to social media and modern popular culture, yet manages to feel charmingly old-fashioned. Though some part of its high-concept setup owes a great debt to how celebrities interact with the real world in the 2020s, at its core it’s a soft-hearted, laid-back rom-com being released at a time when such films feel rare indeed. Anchored by its two immensely pleasing lead performances, Marry Me is perhaps not a world-beater, but it’s surprisingly enjoyable nonetheless.
Lopez plays Kat Valdez, a world-renowned pop singer not far removed from JLo herself. Kat is planning a big live-streamed concert where she’ll not only sing a duet titled “Marry Me” with fellow pop star Bastian (Maluma), but they’ll get married for real on stage. That is until she finds out mere seconds before the nuptials that he’s been cheating on her — and all of her fans seemingly become aware, too, thanks to a gossip post online. To save herself the humiliation, Kat sees a man in the audience holding a “Marry Me” sign and decides to get wed to the stranger. Only after that do she and that man, widowed math teacher Charlie (Wilson), get to know each other and … well, you can guess the rest.
Though it’s based on a graphic novel, Marry Me feels fairly old hat in its mounting of obstacles blocking Kat and Charlie from their happily ever after. They, as you can imagine, come from different worlds: though she considers herself self-sufficient, Kat is trailed by a sea of helpers day and night. Charlie, meanwhile, is averse to modern technology and social media, still brandishing a flip phone and having barely any understanding of Instagram or TikTok.
Kat’s choice to marry Charlie is, on its face, pretty crazy, but borne out of a level of embarrassment being viewed live by roughly 20 million people. Charlie, on the flip side, has next to no awareness of who Kat is aside from being talented and looking pretty downbeat on stage. He has his own depression from the loss of his wife, though he’s buoyed by his relationship with his daughter (Chloe Coleman). Wilson’s being tasked with something of a riff on Tom Hanks’ arc in the iconic Sleepless in Seattle, but he elevates the material thanks to his hangdog, ex-surfer-dude, mellow vibe.
The would-be love triangle between Kat, Charlie and the arrogant Bastian never seems terribly threatening. Bastian may cut a more dashing figure than Charlie, but there’s not a huge amount of suspense surrounding who Kat will wind up with.
That is because while Lopez and Wilson may seem slightly at odds with each other, they get on famously basically from the start. It’s no surprise each of these seasoned performers have boundless natural charisma, but their different levels of energy blend together quite well. It helps that the script, by John Rogers, Tami Sagher and Harper Dill, is a mix of light comedy and pathos.
Marry Me is at its best in its extended second act. The setup to get Kat and Charlie — two complete strangers — together is somewhat sweaty. (All of that high-concept premise is executed, breathlessly, within the first 15 minutes.) Once Lopez and Wilson get to share the screen together, they pop. And they’re more charming together than with the respective side characters who serve as traditional comic relief. John Bradley, formerly Samwell Tarly on Game of Thrones, is the best of those supporting players, as one of Kat’s many advisors. Comedians Michelle Buteau, as another of Kat’s entourage, and Sarah Silverman, as Charlie’s guidance-counselor friend, do their best but have much more one-dimensional material to work with.
What also hampers Marry Me slightly is its inevitable conclusion featuring the returning niggling presence of Bastian. Maluma does an able job in making this male pop-star both clearly talented and a huge jerk, but then Bastian’s innate and unavoidable jerkiness makes it much harder to buy Kat being even slightly tempted in returning to him. That, of course, is more a mark of the traditions of romantic comedies — there have to be obstacles in the way of our lovers finding their happily ever after. But it doesn’t make the third act much more palatable.
That aside, Marry Me boasts a host of new songs performed by both Maluma and JLo, which carefully manage to be a) effectively catchy and b) unique enough as to not feel like rote copies of existing music.
Marry Me should no doubt benefit from good timing — it’s opening on Valentine’s Day weekend and has no romantic-comedy competition, at least in theaters. Kat Coiro’s film may try to root itself in present-day social-media trends and live-streams, but its charms are inherently a throwback to the 1980s and 1990s. The film’s high-concept premise manages to evince Notting Hill without feeling like a rip-off and its lead performances are absolute winners. Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson might be able to do this material in their sleep, but it’s so fun to watch them bounce off each other. Sometimes, a movie just needs to be two gorgeous stars having fun. This time, that’s enough.
Marry Me releases in movie theater and on Peacock Friday, Feb. 11.
Josh Spiegel is a freelance cultural critic who has been published in Slashfilm, SyFy, ScreenCrush, The A.V. Club, The Hollywood Reporter, The Washington Post and others. His favorite films include Singin’ in the Rain, The Rocketeer, Pinocchio and A Matter of Life and Death. His favorite TV shows include Ted Lasso, Only Murders in the Building, Deadwood and Lost. He lives in Phoenix with his wife, two sons and too many cats.
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