REVIEW – ‘Marry Me’ is a surprisingly sweet and endearing romantic comedy

After watching films for the better part of three decades, one would think I’d have learned by now not to judge a book by its cover. I will freely admit to having the absolute lowest of expectations of Marry Me; the breezy new love story starring the oddball romantic pairing of Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson. On paper, nothing about Marry Me makes a lick of sense, particularly its utterly ludicrous premise and unexpected casting choices. Yet, despite all the odds, everything miraculously works remarkably well. Colour me entirely surprised for the first time in 2022.

Based on Bobby Crosby’s graphic novel of the same name (yes, you read that correctly), Marry Me centres on uber-famous pop star Kat Valdez (Lopez), who is gearing up to marry her fellow musician beau Bastian (Colombian singer Maluma in his live-action acting debut) in front of thousands of fans at their latest concert and live-streamed to an audience of 20 million people. A young lothario with a wandering eye, it seems Bastian hasn’t been entirely faithful to his supposed beloved.

Meanwhile, single dad Charlie Gilbert (an effortlessly charming Wilson) is stuck in a bit of a rut. His ex-wife has moved on and remarried, leaving Charlie to throw himself into his work as a math teacher and overparent his mathematically gifted young daughter, Lou (Chloe Coleman). When Charlie’s guidance counsellor co-worker Parker (a typically hilarious Sarah Silverman) scores two extra tickets to Kat and Bastian’s concert, he agrees to attend to prove he can still have fun. He even begrudgingly consents to hold a “Marry Me” sign at the show; a reference to Kat and Bastian’s latest single.

Just as Kat is about to take the stage in an over-the-top wedding gown, she learns of Bastian’s infidelity from her manager Collin (John Bradley). When she decides to still go on with the show, Kat happens to spot Charlie in the crowd and that sign. Desperate to rewrite the embarrassing breaking news of Bastian’s adultery, she calls Charlie up on stage to fulfil his apparent wish to marry her. When the PR stunt scores positive headlines, Kat asks Charlie to stay married to her for six months and see what happens.

You’re likely prejudging this nonsensical premise as heavily as I was. And you’re not wrong. It’s truly absurd and requires an extreme level of suspension of disbelief from an audience. The idea of the most famous singer in the world marrying a total stranger who not only agrees to the insane proposal but also consents to carry on with the charade for several months is truly bonkers. But this is the romantic comedy genre where reality and logic don’t always exist. Once you get beyond the crazy setup, Marry Me morphs into something surprisingly sweet and endearing.

It’s ultimately the tale of two lost souls who find each other in the strangest of circumstances. Even if this pair meet in bizarre fashion, that kind of fateful connection is a narrative staple of this genre. The cliché but earnest screenplay by John Rogers, Tami Sagher, and Harper Dill gives both characters miserable backstories to explain why they’d be so willing to attempt such an outlandish experiment. She’s already experienced two failed marriages before her embarrassing public break-up. He’s recently divorced with no social life to speak of or any chance of meeting someone new. In the end, it’s actually mildly believable they’d try something new when seemingly everything else has failed.

Like most love stories, these two have something to teach each other. He encourages her to be more self-sufficient and less reliant on the myriad of helpers and staff she has surrounding her. She pushes him out of his comfort zone and encourages him to embrace social media. I’m not entirely convinced anyone’s happiness is improved by their partner signing them up for Instagram and Snapchat, but this film bizarrely seems to think social media can be a life-changing addition to someone’s world and not a god-awful curse.

Director Kat Coiro literally scatters the screen with Instagram stories every few scenes to highlight how Kat’s every move is documented by the press, her entourage, and a bevvy of stalkerish fans. It’s an earnest attempt to highlight the total lack of privacy in a celebrity’s life, but it’s a sour addition that feels more like garish product placement than anything. Likewise with cameos from Jimmy Fallon and Hoda Kotb that are little more than advertising for NBC’s line-up of stars. Florian Ballhaus‘s cinematography occasionally switches to the grainy, handheld POV of Kat’s personal videographer who literally follows the singer’s every move. It’s a curious creative decision, but one that’s more distracting than interesting.

It’s ultimately the warm chemistry between Lopez and Wilson that makes Marry Me truly succeed. Casting these two as love interests seems doomed to fail, but their whirlwind romance is rather lovely and the connection between their two characters feels completely authentic. With her own predilection for failed marriages and high-profile relationships, Lopez is obviously playing a semi-fictionalised version of herself. Kat even spits a few digs about the sexist and ageist industry not taking her seriously and refusing to nominate her for anything, which could be in reference to Lopez’s infamous Oscar snub in 2019 for Hustlers. Naturally, it’s a role that fits her like a glove as she effortlessly slips back into romantic comedy mode.

Wilson is so adept at playing these loveable goofy loners, and his charm is off the charts here. Charlie is sweet, genuine, and honest, which is clearly the complete antithesis of the men Kat typically finds in her orbit. He’s the breath of fresh air she needs and Wilson plays this nice guy archetype so damn well. You want to see these two succeed, and that’s entirely thanks to the gorgeous romance Lopez and Wilson craft. As expected, Silverman steals focus with a cavalcade of one-liners and the delightful Bradley scores plenty of earned laughs as Kat’s perpetually flustered manager.

You can’t help but also see Marry Me as Lopez’s vehicle to cheekily push her new music. But she’s not the first musician/actor to do something like that and she won’t be the last. The soundtrack features nine original songs from both Lopez and Maluma including the earworm title track you will hear at least a dozen times over the course of 112 minutes. The first time it plays in the film, I never wanted to hear it again. By the end of the film, I was humming along and somehow knew every damn word. You got me with that repetition, Lopez. Bonus points for the stirring ballad “On My Way,” which is the best song Lopez has recorded in years.

With all this praise, it sounds like I’m calling Marry Me some sort of masterpiece of the romantic comedy genre. It’s not. This is a movie that rarely steps outside the tried and true rom-com formula. But it’s also a film that knows exactly what it is and leans heavily into what audiences love about this style of cinema. Lopez and Wilson are so shockingly terrific together that it’s easy to let this wholesome delight win you over.

Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, Maluma, John Bradley, Sarah Silverman, Stephen Wallem, Chloe Coleman, Michelle Buteau
Director: Kat Coiro
Producers: Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Jennifer Lopez, Benny Medina, John Rogers
Screenplay: John Rogers, Tami Sagher, Harper Dill
Cinematography: Florian Ballhaus
Production Design: Jane Musky
Costume Design: Caroline Duncan
Music: John Debney
Editor: Michael Berenbaum
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Date: 10th February 2022 (Australia)