That Jennifer Lopez is playing a thinly veiled version of herself in Kat Coiro’s mostly amiable “Marry Me” is part of the rom-com’s appeal. Here is a film focused on a wildly popular recording artist (check) who still feels somehow out of the loop (check) and who has been very publicly married many times (check) and is eager to practice a little self-reinvention (check). Lopez’s onscreen avatar, Kat Valdez, is just as appealing as Lopez herself, somehow managing to feel approachable while also being a megawatt star. You’d like to be friends with Kat, even if that seems somewhat impossible. Now imagine how that feels to good-natured math teacher Charlie (Owen Wilson), who kind of wants to be married to her.
Pulling liberally from other rom-com gems like “Notting Hill” and “Maid in Manhattan,” “Marry Me” is rife with the kind of tropes audiences expect (and desire!) from the genre. We’ve got mismatched lovers, a big crazy scheme that brings them together, a little bit of subterfuge, cute kiddos, and a potentially devious ex. A generous dollop of montages help it go down easy, and there’s song and dance to boot. But while that stew sounds familiar, “Marry Me” takes almost too long to get really cracking, with both romance and laughs in short supply, until a mercifully charming final act.
So, can Jennifer Lopez save the rom-com? Very nearly, and “Marry Me” at least makes the case for the genre to get a fresh injection of new ideas and savvy stars. The basic shape of it doesn’t surprise, but in the realm of rom-coms, that can actually be a bonus. It’s comforting, and based on Lopez’s return to the genre, she seems to feel the same way.
When we first meet Kat, she’s on the verge of her next big (truly, very big) thing: marrying her fellow pop star boyfriend Bastien (played by real-life Colombian pop star Maluma in his first major film role) on stage during a joint concert at Madison Square Garden, meant to celebrate both their love and their hit single called, well, “Marry Me.” It’s all part of Kat’s exceedingly public life (she spends most of her time being recorded by a camera crew, tasked with crafting mini episodes of her own life to share with her rapid fanbase; it’s hard to imagine another film where the term “social reach” is thrown around that’s not an actual documentary about social media), but to her, it’s still very real.
Too bad Bastien is kind of a dick, and mere minutes before their public declaration of devotion, Page Six runs a hot hot hot exclusive, showing Bastien making out with one of Kat’s many assistants (do not worry about this particularly personal side of the scandal, it will be barely referenced again). Distraught, Kat still takes to the stage, where her eyes alight on good-natured Charlie, dragged to the show by his exuberant BFF Parker (Sarah Silverman) and very cute daughter Lou (Chloe Coleman) in hopes of proving that he’s not as boring as he’s long feared. In the brief moment during which a) Kat breaks down and b) Parker hands off her giant “MARRY ME” sign (again, it is a hit song, hello) to Charlie, their eyes lock.
Yes, Kat will marry you, Charlie. And, yes, that sounds silly and high-concept, but the great joy of the genre is when even that kind of stuff can still feel suffused with real emotion. “Marry Me” nearly does the trick, and after a bumpy first act, settles into the sweetness of watching Charlie and Kat fold each other into their lives, first as a bit of a lark (Kat wants to see something through, Charlie can’t turn down a big donation to his school), and then because they truly enjoy each other. Lopez and Wilson might not have the hottest chemistry, but they’re charming together, and the warmth that radiates off their burgeoning bond is satisfying indeed.
If only the film could get out of its own way. By leaning so hard into the razzle-dazzle social media of it all, Harper Dill and John Rogers’ script (based on Bobby Crosby’s graphic novel of the same name) overlooks why that would even be interesting to begin with: because outside a TikTok-obsessed world, Kat and Charlie make for an unlikely pair. The ways in which the pair are scrutinized and divided are not interesting — though Coiro’s ability to translate the experience of interacting with social media to the big screen is quite good — but how they navigate their way through it is. That’s what’s romantic about all of this.
Eventually, Coiro’s film seems to realize this, with a final act that leans way into the usual genre tropes (for the better), giving itself over to last-minute realizations and mad dashes to the airport, plenty of misunderstandings and unexpectedly romantic settings (a math competition? sure!), and a hearty dose of “hey, it’s just a rom-com” can-do spirit. That might not make it so easy to package for a quick bite of the social media pie, but it seems like something far more enduring and worth saving.
Universal Pictures will release “Marry Me” in theaters and streaming on Peacock on Friday, February 11.