If I were to take a survey asking people to choose two stars they think would be perfect for an on-screen romance, I doubt many of you would say Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson. Yet guess who stars in the new romantic comedy “Marry Me”, a movie built around an preposterous premise but that manages to work because of the sheer star wattage and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) chemistry of its two leads.
On paper, nothing about “Marry Me” should work. And before you get too carried away, you should know it does come unglued during its corny and cloying final 15 minutes or so. But for a stretch “Marry Me” actually clicks. And I mean it really clicks in sweet, smart, and genuinely funny ways. Director Kat Coiro, along with the writing trio of John Rogers, Tami Sagher and Harper Dill, give space for the film’s central relationship to develop and grow. The committed and charismatic couple of Lopez and Wilson handle the rest. That is until the movie eventually caves to the more mawkish and conventional.
Lopez plays Kat Valdez, a pop superstar adored by millions of fans around the globe. Her highly publicized romance with fellow Latin sensation Bastian (Maluma) makes headlines and routinely sets social media ablaze. Their agents come up with a publicity stunt for the ages – have a concert/wedding where the recently engaged super-couple take their vows on stage in front of a live New York City crowd and with 20 million people watching worldwide.
Wilson plays the blandly named average-Joe Charlie Gilbert (apologies to all the Charlie Gilberts out there). He’s a buttoned-up and slightly neurotic junior high math teacher – kinda like a domesticated Gil Pender. But rather than being infatuated with Paris, its equations and formulas that butter Charlie’s biscuit. And sponsoring the school’s math club (hilariously called the “Pi-thons”) is as close as he comes to an actual social life.
Charlie is perfectly content with his dull and boring existence, but he’s having a hard time connecting with his 12-year-old daughter Lou (Chloe Coleman). In an effort to convince Lou that he’s “fun”, Charlie heeds the advice of his friend and colleague Parker (Sarah Silverman) and takes Lou to Kat and Bastian’s big show. But as Kat takes the stage to get married in front of the world, a video goes viral showing Bastian cheating on Kat with her assistant.
A hurt and humiliated Kat sees Charlie in the crowd holding his daughter’s “Marry Me” sign (it’s the name of Kat and Bastian’s new hit single). On a whim, she calls Charlie to the stage and agrees to marry him on the spot. A stunned but sympathetic Charlie goes along with it and is immediately thrust into the spotlight. Kat’s handlers, specifically Collin (John Bradley) urge her to end the charade. But she refuses to let the world or Bastian see her heartbreak. So she and Charlie go on a whirlwind publicity tour, and (of course) grow closer in the process.
From there it’s not too hard to see where things are going. You have two vastly different people from wildly different worlds which leads to the quintessential (and inevitable) ‘opposites attract’ romance. But it works because of the two stars. Wilson has a disarming sincerity and an infectious charm that’s impossible to resist. He’s very much playing an Owen Wilson character, and (once again) he does it to perfection. Meanwhile, Lopez leans into her glamorous persona while also bringing sensitivity and compassion to her larger-the-life character.
But eventually (and most unfortunately) the filmmakers pull out the old Hallmark blueprint. You know, where things look great for our bubbly couple until that one conflict (in this case a ridiculously shallow one) pulls them apart and threatens to end their fairytale romance. Of course we know how things are going to turn out which is another reason I’m tired of this stale rom-com formula. And it’s not helped by the ending – a predictable and super-syrupy finish that’s too scripted and phony to convey the sweetness it’s going for.
But let’s get back to the stars. Lopez and Wilson may not be the most obvious on-screen couple. But both deserve a ton of credit for what they manage to do in “Marry Me”. They take this utterly ridiculous concept from a mostly formulaic and predictable movie and actually make us care. They make us care about their characters and their prospect of a future together. And it’s all because of that unexpected chemistry. They can’t make the trite suddenly original or the schmaltz more truthful. But they do make the film not only watchable, but surprisingly enjoyable. “Marry Me” opens tomorrow (February 11th) in theaters and streaming on Peacock.