There’s a blissful ignorance on display throughout Marry Me that is simultaneously discomfiting and wistful, its flowery romance presented though a lens of casual globe-hopping, packed concert venues, and glitzy nights on the town. Part of that is surely because it was shot pre-pandemic, another in the long line of films that have been sitting patiently on the shelf, awaiting a plausible release window. Even outside of that very acute contextual barrier, however, this movie is a fantasy of bygone era so tired and obvious that it becomes interminable.
Perhaps the dated rom-com framework could be massaged into relevance if the film had even a shred of self-awareness, but Marry Me is an absolutely earnest feel-good product, its every moment assembled on an old-school Hollywood conveyor belt. So entirely retrograde is this concept – the bone-headed misunderstanding of the century results in the world’s biggest pop star marrying a mild-mannered nobody – that I could swear it was directed by Garry Marshall, except for the fact that he’s dead.
Jennifer Lopez, the film’s top-billed star, once specialized in this sort of sickeningly sweet romantic spectacle, but the core of that run was almost two decades ago. This screenplay seems to have been pieced together from the scraps of that era, the exhumed appendages of The Wedding Planner and Maid in Manhattan cobbled into a Frankenstein and unleashed on an unsuspecting modern audience. Not to imply that society has evolved in the ensuing years, because, quite demonstrably, it hasn’t. However, we may have become too cynical to accept a premise this stone-cold silly.
To be fair, the movie itself is fueled by its own cynical ambition, since its primary function is to serve as a feature-length marketing tool for its soundtrack, which is essentially J-Lo’s latest album (its secondary function is to serve as an extended Vitamix commercial, but that’s another discussion). As each subsequent song plays out in its entirety, like a musical without any proper context, we become increasingly impatient awaiting the forthcoming narrative misunderstandings that will unnecessarily delay the inevitable happy ending.
In between the extended music videos, Lopez plays Kat Valdez, pop star extraordinaire, whose lavish concert performances would be hilarious if only the film understood the concept of satire. A ridiculous little number titled “Church,” in which Kat dons a skimpy cross-shaped bodysuit and her back-up dancers dress as nuns, feels like an idea The Lonely Island rejected as too on-the-nose. When Kat discovers, mid-concert, that her pretty boy fiancé is cheating on her, she looks out into the crowd and spots a random dude holding a “Marry Me” sign. She then says, “yes, I will marry you” to the random dude, and then they get married on stage. Movies, now more than ever!
Owen Wilson plays the random dude, a humble single dad who teaches math and is the general antithesis of narcissistic celebrity. His daughter is a Kat Valdez superfan, which means Kat will become the ultimate stepmom. What starts as a convenient arrangement for PR purposes soon blooms into true love – and after he invites her to a school formal and she teaches his math club memorization via the magic of dance, how could it not?
Clearly, Marry Me is a relic of the Before Times. Perhaps, had it been released in a world not jaded by two years of incessant death, it might’ve been more tolerable. It certainly would’ve been a modest hit, instead of being sent to the graveyard of current-state theatrical distribution. Oddly enough, Lopez and Wilson seem to be having a good time, and at the thought of the paychecks they earned for having that good time, I must tip my hat.