I will never grade a movie on a curve, but I also won’t dock a movie for being what it is. In the case of Marry Me, that means not taking off points because a Jennifer Lopez/Owen Wilson romantic comedy doesn’t mine the depths of relationship anxiety, because that’s not why anyone made it or why anyone would put it on. Think of it like the reasonable person standard but for film; sure, some rando might get mad about what it isn’t, but the vast majority of us saw the froth coming and wanted a nice, thick layer.
There are, of course, still things to analyze and critique, because even the lightest, most formulaic movies require skill to pull off. It’s here that Marry Me surprises; it’s got an undeniably bonkers premise, but there’s a surprising amount of genre understanding and skill on display, almost enough to overcome its garish problems.
Based on the graphic novel of the same name, the film pairs two people who should never be together: a mild-mannered math teacher and a global pop star. Wilson is the former and Lopez the latter, in case you couldn’t piece together that this is as much a display of Lopez’s many talents as it is a romantic comedy (but wouldn’t it be hilarious if the roles were switched?).
In between the many (many) musical numbers, Lopez’s fiance cheats on her right before they are to be wed onstage, so she picks Wilson out of the crowd and goes through with the ceremony.
It’s a plot beat so ludicrous that it’s a wonder the movie doesn’t feel like it jumped the shark after only twenty minutes. With Lopez in full breakdown, it’s hard not to be suspicious of the person who would follow her down the aisle. Aren’t they taking advantage of her given how distressed she is? And yet, through some combination of Wilson’s deep charm (which is mined for all it’s worth here) and director Kat Coiro’s careful progression through his flawed but considerate thought process, he emerges as a guy you believe is looking out for her.
From there, the movie enters its strongest section: the gentle romance of two unexpected soulmates. Wilson and Lopez don’t belong in each others’ worlds (after the initial logic hurdle, the movie remains fairly grounded), but an inexplicable understanding develops between the two. Both have been burned by love, but both are hanging on to hope that someone is out there for them.
It’s the kind of perfectly light character work that gives fluffy rom-coms enough structure to be held up by their true base: chemistry. We had better be able to feel the spark between the romantic pair and be rooting for their success, and Lopez and Wilson dig into their underrated skills to come dangerously close to pulling the whole thing off.
Wilson is a more accepted entity, but his aw shucks persona makes many forget the deep character moments he can pull out of formulaic movies like Marley & Me. Lopez, well, we all know she didn’t get the respect she deserved for Hustlers. Both of these get a shout in Marry Me, but even if the meta moments go over your head the proof of their skills is still on full display. They manage to finagle these characters into people who genuinely feel like they belong together, not just ones thrown together by a formula.
If this was truly a great movie, it would’ve taken this win and given us a lean 90 minutes of the two bumbling through their romance. Unfortunately, an exhausting amount of side characters and subplots drag things out.
I mean, is Sarah Silverman’s bawdy jokester a recognizable sidekick cliché? Sure, and she’s fine in that role, even if it is an element of rom-coms I find grating. And making Wilson the single father of a cute little girl played by Chloe Coleman solidifies his essential goodness, but giving her an entire arc where she’s overcoming a flubbed mathlete performance requires the movie to spend way too much time with her. Then there’s the rest of the mathletes, Wilson’s teacher friend, Lopez’s support staff, and the lurking Bastion (the guy who cheated on Lopez) all piling weight on what should be a light movie.
Somewhere in the writing/editing, Marry Me desperately needed to look in the mirror and take one (or five) things off. There’s a sweet, charming rom-com in there, but it’s constantly being put on hold by its own incessant flitting. Stop, focus, put on a show. Lopez knows how to do that. Wilson knows how to do that. Marry Me does not.
Release: available in theaters and on Peacock February 11th
Director: Kat Coiro
Writers: Harper Dill, John Rogers, Tami Sagher
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, Sarah Silverman, John Bradley, Chloe Coleman, and Maluma