2022 may already be an impossibly weird year if its first romantic comedy is the equivalent of stepping through an internet “wayback archive.” I’m surely not the first to claim that Marry Me would’ve been a much bigger deal back in 2002, following in The Wedding Ringer’s footsteps. Even with charming A-listers like Owen Wilson and Jennifer Lopez taking charge, it would’ve been a summer splash in theaters. I don’t expect it’ll have that same magnetic clout, but their maturity in this current decade make no small effort to fit surprisingly well with the source material. After that settles, somehow, is a heartfelt slice of life story with a lone purpose: to celebrate love in the unlikeliest circumstances. Therein lies a great deal of fun, to a rather surprising degree.
Lopez returns to her musical wheelhouse as Latin pop phenom Kat Valdez. She’s been in the game for what feels like an eternity, but still bestselling with a legion of fans, a lifestyle brand, and cameras on her 99% of the time. She is poised to marry fellow singing star Bastien (Maluma) at a ceremonial concert with 20 million sets of eyeballs glued in to observe online. And it all appears to be occurring without a hitch. Until the absolute last moment, when rumors swirl of Bastien’s rampant infidelity, cheating with her assistant. In a state of grief, she makes a public outcry, and tries to save the moment by willingly marrying a random audience member, placing manager Collin (John Bradley) and social coordinator Melissa (Michelle Buteau) on red alert.
The lucky pick Kat makes is Charlie Gilbert (Wilson), a recently divorced math teacher, sharing custody of her genius daughter Lou (Chloe Coleman). Through the convincing of coworker Parker (Sarah Silverman), the pair tag along for the fated show, where he and Kat go through the motions onstage. Realizing how much damage was inflicted on Kat’s image, she willingly sets a challenge to stay with Charlie, at least in a binding sense over a trial period, partly to save face, partly to get Bastian’s goat. Charlie plays along, but the idea of celebrity only takes him further out of his depth. He’s a vanilla geek of sorts, where his passion is outreaching the glory of math. She’s a multitalented entertainer, entrepreneur and philanthropist with some conflicting emotional baggage. And it’s almost a miracle, the pair getting along as well as they do.
The level of chemistry shared between Lopez and Wilson? Far from an accident, if it’s not the first time they’d worked together (anyone remember Anaconda?). It’s almost alarming just how genuine it all appeared at first glance, with director Kat Coiro (A Case of You) leading the charade as a traffic cop, keeping every objective and viewpoint in its respective place. Multiple voices of reason try to either loosen Charlie up or reverse course, as the pair get to know each other, in almost typical rom-com fashion. Some subtle nuanced acting on their collective behalf does plenty to distinguish this wild romp away from the pack of similarity.
While the formula is nothing new – even I’ll admit it was like a partial rehash of films like Music and Lyrics, or Pretty Woman, albeit lacking the same level of musicianship – the quirks of its bonding do allow for a fresh spin. Being inspired by a graphic novel with a niche fan base does allow for that added room to reinterpret standard genre leitmotifs. That in turns rejuvenates what would’ve otherwise been stock characters without any sort of personality. Coiro’s supporting cast manage to overemphasize the concept, bolstering up their leads and often outshining. Silverman gives student counselor Parker a voice of near-manic encouragement to break Charlie out of his reserved cocoon, while Kat’s professional organizers make a half-hearted attempt to lessen the impact of her misguided decisions. Bradley as a flighty celebrity handler easily over delivers, far more confident in his element as opposed to his scientist character in Moonfall. And Coleman is nothing short of ferocious, trying her hardest to keep dad on a balanced swivel.
If there was one foible to be found here, it might have been the goals set in place through Coiro, and screenwriters John Rogers (Transformers), Tami Sagher, and Harper Dill. The trio are well versed in laying down comic pathways, but can’t find where to correctly aim for romantic goals. That only makes attempting to write for Wilson all the more difficult if his character only comes off as aloof, noncommittal, and overwhelmed by unwarranted attention. But through Lopez’s resilience and unmatchable sense of conviction, we do find Wilson very game to letting loose, being fun, giving in to the moment, still clamming up a trifle whenever Bastien muscles his way back into the equation. So it is not a perfect character, not even by an acceptable margin. Had Charlie’s nerdiness been toned down enough, had he been a bit more open-minded and adventurous from the offset, the conflict plaguing his decision-making by the end would’ve been easier to identify as something realistic. Same for Kat’s impulses, none of which would blend outside of a rom-com.
Without a shred of reluctance, however, I could overlook that undercooked character development. Because it is still very much fun to look at. Marry Me is a very fun look at romance, one that only needed a bit more time to mix in the cinematic beaker. Coiro opens up the doors for that necessary space for performers’ chaos to play out, but not as such for the varying subplots. Not that it will mess the cadence of romantic fantasy involved, nor will it likely alienate neither fans of the genre, nor couples in need of a matching piece of date night entertainment for the holiday. The potential it leaves behind is rather head-shaking, but everything else is worthy of a few groovy nods. Could we ask for anything more on a weekend meant for lovers? (C+; 3 /5 Horns Up!)
Marry Me opens in theaters, and at home on Peacock February 11; rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive material; 112 minutes.