We’re all in agreement that romantic comedies, more than any other genre, are all about a simple guarantee — yes, the laughs may fall flat and the love may feel forced, but we know that by the time the end credits roll our two leads will be together. There are exceptions, of course, with one of the best being My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), but they only prove the rule. Rom-coms end with a couple. What Marry Me presupposes, though, is what happens if a rom-com started with one instead? The answer, it turns out, is nothing good.
Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) is a pop star with three ex-husbands and plans to get married on live television to fellow singing sensation Bastian (Maluma), but mere moments beforehand, and with twenty million people watching, she discovers he cheated on her. She looks to the audience in front of her, specifically a befuddled man holding a sign saying “Marry Me” — the name of the couple’s hit duet, and a sign he’s simply holding for his young daughter — and she says yes. Charlie (Owen Wilson) is suddenly in the spotlight, and encouraged by the crowd, his daughter, and his friend Parker (Sarah Silverman), he walks up on stage and gets married. The spontaneous moment becomes an opportunity for Kat’s team to get some short-lived attention, but what if the megastar and the math teacher actually hit it off? Is there a chance these two opposites can find love together despite their differences?!
While a different Julia Roberts rom-com is mentioned above, it’s Notting Hill (1999) that appears to be the main inspiration for Marry Me as a nobody and a celebrity hit it off and fumble trying to make their worlds mesh. (Hell, the ending of this one is a clear lift as well.) What that gem does so beautifully, though, this passable effort rushes through by forcing them together from the onset. Sure, it makes for a new starting point, but knowing that’s also going to be the destination makes for a wholly uneventful ride.
Director Kat Cairo and writers John Rogers, Tami Sagher, and Harper Dill don’t stop at Notting Hill either as we also get a frenzied run to the airport (classic!), a blatant beat lifted wholesale (and unsuccessfully) from Pretty Woman (1990), and some When Harry Met Sally (1989) inspired “real” couples talking at the end. Can she make time in her celebrity lifestyle for the quieter moments? Can he deal with the insecurity he feels on her arm? Will Jimmy Fallon cameo more than three times as himself here with some woefully unfunny bits? These are all questions the film asks, but it’s unclear who exactly will be lining up for the answers.
As mentioned in my review for this weekend’s other (and somewhat superior) rom-com, I Want You Back, an otherwise generic script can be easily overcome on the strength of the leads, but Marry Me has no such luck. Both Lopez and Wilson are solid performers, and each has found success in the rom-com genre previously with Maid in Manhattan (2002) and Wedding Crashers (2005), respectively, but there’s just nothing but dead air between them here. The lack of chemistry would be almost impressive if it wasn’t the most necessary ingredient in a rom-com.
Wilson in particular feels like he’s just recycling old bits and mannerisms rather than creating a character, and while some beats land — he’s still a funny guy when he wants to be — he never convinces us he’s someone anyone would fall for, let alone an international celeb like Kat. Lopez is a different story (and probably wishes she was in one, too) as you feel her struggle being pulled to one side by her career, fame, and job, and pulled to the other by a sincere desire for love. Her “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy…” moment may not hit with anything resembling the power of Roberts’ in Notting Hill, but it’s there all the same. To be fair, she also gets to perform pop songs which give Kat sequences with real energy and personality, something Wilson/Charlie never gets.
Silverman is good fun, and John Bradley brings both competence and charm as Kat’s manager, but a successful rom-com needs both of its leads to shine. They need to make us laugh, make us care, and even make us fall in love at least a little bit along the way. The pairing of Lopez and Wilson fizzles early on and never reignites, and that spells doom for the marriage between audiences and Marry Me. But yeah, in case it wasn’t clear throughout this review, go watch (or rewatch) Notting Hill instead to see how the professionals do it.
Related Topics: Marry Me