Jennifer Lopez knows what she’s doing.
Whether it’s her acting career, pop stardom or the recent 2.0 resurgence of Bennifer, there’s just something extremely satisfying about watching J. Lo work and work well. There always has been. I’ve literally grown up following her career — if not actively, then at least in the background of my cultural awareness — since I was 9 years old and I heard “Waiting For Tonight” the first time on the radio. Her presence in the landscape of fame and celebrity is indelible, and although she’s had some misses, you can’t deny that she has a real talent for maximizing her talent. She’s pretty effing great at what she does … and she knows it.
That energy comes through in Marry Me, a meta-reflection on J. Lo’s own stardom that also happens to serve as an excellent return to her rom-com roots. As confident as it is competent, Marry Me (opening in theatres Friday as well as streaming to premium users of Peacock) delivers exactly what you expect — nothing more, nothing less. That’s a compliment, by the way. You’ll hear no rom-com slander from me.
Still, let’s get one thing out of the way right now: The whole point of a rom-com is its reliability. Rom-coms, and their romance novel siblings in the book world, are committed to a familiar plot that has existed in this world since people realized thousands of years ago that a bumpy road to happily ever after always sells like hot cakes. If your main problem with rom-coms is that they’re “predictable,” then buddy, you’re watching these movies all wrong. (Also, and this is very important, if you call them “chick flicks,” then you’re dead to me.)
The difference between a good rom-com and a bad one doesn’t lie in its ability to overcome genre tropes but rather in its willingness to embrace them. The foundation of a rom-com is as vital as the connection between its two main characters. If one is missing, then by the end you’re not going to want the romance to succeed. Without that, what’s the point? A fresh twist can help set a good rom-com apart from the pack, and Marry Me certainly has that, but mess with the formula too much and you lose the magic of the genre. So why mess with it at all? Give the people what they want!
And that’s exactly what Marry Me does. At its heart, it’s a movie about two nice people from completely different worlds coming together and gradually falling in love. Kat Valdez (J. Lo) is a pop superstar who is supposed to marry her fellow pop superstar boyfriend (Maluma) at a live concert, learns he cheated on her literally seconds before going on stage in her wedding dress, and impulsively chooses to marry someone from the audience instead. Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson) is the man she picks from obscurity — a mild-mannered math teacher and single father who happens to be holding a “MARRY ME” sign even though he only came to the concert in the first place to chaperone his preteen daughter. In a daze and wanting to help out a woman in trouble, he says OK to the marriage. They get married right there on stage. You know how the rest of this goes.
It’s absurd! It’s adorable! It’s the classic “prince falls in love with a commoner” trope, only this time the prince is J. Lo! And it works!
Marry Me is an enjoyable watch from start to finish because, like J. Lo, it knows what it’s doing. It’s self-aware without being too self-aware and it never tips the scales into something cynical or mean. There could easily be a version of this movie where Kat is a bitchy diva and Charlie is a schlubby joke. That they both feel like real people in an entirely unrealistic situation is a testament both to the chemistry shared by Wilson and J. Lo, and to a dedication from the director, writers and producers to what a rom-com should be — a nice story about nice people finding the happy ending so many of us long to see. That’s all. It simply doesn’t have to be anything more than that.
That said, this rom-com also comes with songs that are actually good, so seriously, what’s not to love?