“We have to embrace the spontaneity of the moment.”
Reading the logline for Marry Me, the new studio-generated Valentine’s Day fare is, admittedly, more exciting than watching the movie. The movie’s premise, a pop star marries an average joe she sees in the audience at one of her concerts, does sound fun and playful. It calls to mind the kind of whimsy that existed in romantic comedies from the 40s or the 60s. In fact, it wouldn’t be too hard to picture names like Carole Lombard and Doris Day taking on such a role in a vehicle tailor made for their talents. It’s an attractive idea because we know the sort of joy we’d like to imagine those movies could bring us without having to sit through the obvious shortcomings. But this premise is in fact a movie someone made and, yes, while there are shortcomings, they come with just enough of the aforementioned joy to make Marry Me more than what some are dreading.
In Marry Me, Jennifer Lopez stars as Kat Valdez, a global music superstar at the top of her game who is not only enjoying a thriving career, but is also engaged to the man of her dreams, fellow pop superstar Bastian (Maluma). The public love the couple so much, that they decide to tie the knot onstage at a concert filled with thousands of adoring fans that is also being streamed to 20 million others. However, when a story breaks right before the nuptials take place that expose Bastian’s unfaithfulness, Kat immediately dumps him and marries Charlie (Owen Wilson), a divorced dad/math teacher, whom she spots in the audience holding a sign that says: “Marry me.”
You can’t help but applaud the way Marry Me serves Lopez as a way to send up her own extremely well-documented image, which it does quite effectively. Kat is a diva superstar of the highest order who is pampered and fawned over to the nth degree by a slew of assistants and hoards of screaming fans. Her private sessions run somewhere in the millions and she seems happy to share every part of her life with her public. Lopez seems game to poke fun at the public’s perception of her, particularly during her performance of a song called “Church,” in which a handful of scantily clad dancers dressed as priests and nuns frolic around Kat (who looks just fetching in a flesh-colored catsuit with a giant sequined cross on the front) just before she’s about to tie the knot on stage.
Thankfully though, the character never conforms to any of the negative stereotypes associated with the diva label, remaining as down to earth as someone of her status possibly can. It’s because of this that when a heartbroken Kat falls on the stage as she’s about to announce to her fans that the wedding is off, we can’t help but pity her on some level. Sure, there’s some good-natured laughter to be had at seeing someone with such wealth and power being brought to their knees, but there’s also some vulnerability that comes with seeing a person at the lowest point in their lives literally fall even lower. Eventually, Lopez uses Marry Me as a tool with which to vent about her place in the industry as ideas of credibility vs. fame, the celebrity vs. the artist and even a couple of lines about never being nominated for anything all take up more space than they should.
Despite all the attention paid to sending up images, Marry Me does actually take some time to function as a romantic comedy. It’s easy to see the whole affair as a comment on the very movie it’s marketed as. This begs the question: Can a movie still make a comment such as that if it itself is actually that kind of a movie? Marry Me definitely seems to think so and to its credit, it backs itself up by doing enough right by genre standards, especially when it comes to the character of Charlie. In the sea of Kat Valdez fans, seeing this average man who doesn’t even know who she is (he was forcibly dragged to the infamous concert) serves as the one link to the real world. In an age where it feels there are more celebrities than people, it’s refreshing to see a character not influenced by fame and power whatsoever despite being forced into it mitts. Even if the script doesn’t develop him as much as he deserves, the fact that Charlie is able to see Kat as just another girl makes him an instant catch.
In typing out the plot summary for this movie, it hit home more than ever just how larger-than-life it is. The conceit that Charlie is such a nice guy, he’d actually enter into marriage in order to save someone from the worst moment of their lives, is a real swallow. But that’s simply the kind of mentality Marry Me requires of its audience. Once that leap of faith is taken, the movie’s romanticism and impulsive nature all become embraceable. In an era of vast overthinking, it’s refreshing to watch something that allows you to live as vicariously as is possible in this day and age. What makes the more heightened elements work is the fact that Kat and Charlie have some genuinely great chemistry together. Their solo scenes act as the heart of the movie and gives it some much needed grounding thanks to the simplicity and honesty shown in watching these two people from different social experiences discover one another.
The reason these two characters generate enough sparks together is purely due to the great chemistry shared between Lopez and Wilson. The two stars are instantly believable as two people who just entered one another’s life for the first time. Lopez and Wilson come from different schools of acting, but manage to find a rhythm that’s totally their own instantly and with very little effort. This not only makes their scenes alone together work as well as they do, but it also makes you cheer for them to succeed as a couple, regardless of how disinterested you may be in the surrounding story. The leads find great support from the likes of Maluma, Sarah Silverman (as a guidance counselor) and Michelle Buteau (as Kat’s assistant), among others. But this is Lopez and Wilson’s show and the pair are the main reason Marry Me works as good as it does.
With the Oscar nominations announced this week and a number of awards-centric pieces I’m prepping, the burn out is a little bit real for several of us critics. The amount of emotional energy needed to make it through countless awards titles grows every year and takes a lot out of those who participate in the race to the finish line. It’s for this reason that movies like Marry Me, while fluffy, do contain value in a soothing, occasionally soul-cleansing way. This movie could fall into that category if it could settle on a single aim. Is Marry Me a statement effort that calls out the cynicism of both the fans and the media towards the celebrities they themselves collectively lift up? Is it an aspirational fairy tale with an “it’s worth a shot” undertone that embraces and encourages impulses in a world where we’ve been forced to be so careful? The fact that Marry Me refuses to choose doesn’t really matter. Ultimately, the answer will depend on whichever one each audience member wants it to be.