By Mark Ziobro | Managing Editor
The biggest surprise about the Jennifer Lopez/Owen Wilson romance “Marry Me” released this past February is that it’s unmistakably sweet. As with most romantic comedies, it has an angle. And this angle—a famous singer ends up ‘marrying’ a total stranger at a concert where she was originally to marry her music partner/love of her life (musical artist Maluma) before finding out he cheated—sounds cliché; but what works about the film, directed by Kat Coiro, is that it’s the presentation of a movie—and characters—that believe in love. It has a great soundtrack, featuring many songs sung by Lopez herself, and solid chemistry between its leads. It somehow transcends its kitschy premise to become an elevated romantic comedy that will leave you smiling by the end.
Shouldn’t romance films leave you smiling instead of presenting over-the-top (and let’s face it, sometimes unbelievable) dramatics? My first thought when watching the trailer for this movie was how much it resembled “Maid in Manhattan” (which despite its problems, I enjoyed). Both feature two people colliding who shouldn’t be together, but by the ending you know you’ll end up wanting them to be.
But what separates “Marry Me” from that movie, or even the forever charming “Pretty Woman,” is that it sidesteps convention and doesn’t focus its run-time on how much Wilson’s character Charlie, a math school teacher, doesn’t belong. From the film’s first moments it sets up that both Wilson’s Charlie and Lopez’ Kat are nice people. They’re easy to like, and the film lets us do just that.
The performances are good, and you can tell the actors are having fun with these people and this script. The dialogue give them decent fodder to chew on; and, while “Marry Me” fits into the usual tropes many rom-coms usher, you can tell the writers are trying to sidestep as many as possible.
Lopez is in top form; at the film’s opening she appears every bit the musical superstar she does in real life, but the film allows her to be herself and be real. What I liked most about Lopez here is that she injects such beauty and life into Kat that she feels like someone we could know. She also brings a vulnerability to the role which makes her quest for true love believable and sweet. She has every reason by the time she “marries” Charlie to reject love completely, but she presses on despite it.
Wilson is great also. While he has the same mannerisms and hairdo that have lined his performances over the last decade plus, there’s something different about him. He’s toned down, less comedic, and more real. He’s a divorcé who raises a child part-time (a great Chloe Coleman), and loves fatherhood though he regrets the way his independent daughter is growing up too fast. His moments with Coleman make up some of the best scenes of the movie, especially the film’s ending featuring a school math competition. He grows during the movie, first from someone who assumes his marriage to Kat Valdez is just one big social media opp to someone who really starts to like her. But he’s a realist and afraid; he’s someone we can relate to.
The film’s side characters are entertaining too, from comedian Sarah Silverman who plays a school guidance counselor to John Bradley, Kat’s manager, to the aforementioned Coleman, who is just a delight. Also great, is the film’s soundtrack, with many songs performed by Lopez solo or duets with Maluma, especially songs like the title track “Marry Me” or the soulful love ballad “On My Way.” The songs feel like Lopez but they also feel different; Lopez uses Valdez to channel her emotion through song, rather than “Marry Me” being a vehicle to release a bunch of J.Lo hits.
But amidst all this is a film comprised of sweet scenes that make you smile, and a film that is decidedly without cynicism. The chemistry Lopez and Wilson bring to the film is palpable, and their relationship feels like an awkward friendship that turns into a believable romance, and not somewhat forced like the aforementioned “Maid in Manhattan” or Wilson’s comedy “Wedding Crashers.” The two also share some really nice moments, like a bowling “date” that turns into a real one, or a visit to Coney Island that is one of the film’s sweetest.
“Marry Me” is of course not without faults, as some drama finds its way in—as it must—to have a predictable ending down the road. But viewers of rom-coms know this; I doubt audiences will find their way into this film for a groundbreaking swing from convention, but to be warmed, entertained, and smile. “Marry Me” delivers these in spades.
All-in-all this is a nice film. It’s positioned perfectly for the Valentine’s Day holiday, and is a breath of fresh air in that it’s so sweet and honest, where it could have fallen into cynicism or drama so easily. Both Lopez and Wilson turn in enjoyable performances, the backup cast is great, and the soundtrack is mesmerizing. Those who view rom-coms to be cynical emotional manipulations will likely get little out of this; but for those who want a break from life’s troubles, Covid, and more, “Marry Me” is one of the nicest romances to come out in some time, and will have you smiling throughout.
“Marry Me” is availble to watch in cinemas or stream on Peacock.