Forget what you think you know about romantic comedies. Marry Me has arrived to upend and one-up your expectations with a love story that’s fresh and fabulous.
Though based on the comic book by Bobby Crosby, Marry Me‘s premise owes a debt to Notting Hill with its tale of smart but rumpled everyman meets ultra-famous glamor girl. In that Richard Curtis classic, it was an English bookshop owner meeting an American movie star. In this Kat Coiro-directed gem, math teacher Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson) crosses paths with pop star Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez). But forget the cozy meet-cute; these two jump right to matrimony. Sure, many a rom-com ends with a first kiss or a flashy wedding. For this one, the unlikely nuptials are the inciting incident.
It all begins with pop power-couple Kat and Bastian (Maluma), who were poised to have the “biggest wedding in the world”, onstage in a televised concert, watched by 20 million people. They had the titular hit single to promote. She had the crystal-bedecked designer dress. But he had a wandering eye that got caught on tape. So, lifted onto stage for her grand entrance, Kat must decide what to do before millions of onlookers. That’s when she sees Charlie, who’s reluctantly been dragged to the concert by his young daughter (Chloe Coleman) and his pushy bestie (Sarah Silverman). Their eyes meet, and his sign says “Marry Me.” And she says yes.
Credit: Universal Studios
It’s outrageous, but it’s wonderful. Stunned, he climbs to the stage. They perform their vows, and then they make a hasty exit with the paparazzi snapping shots and Bastian bellowing behind them. They are not bound to each other, not by law, vow, or affection — even though they did share one hell of a kiss. So, now what? Well, Charlie returns to his shabby-chic apartment in Brooklyn, while Kat goes to her penthouse overlooking Central Park and surveys the shattered pieces of her life. Late-night TV is already cracking jokes about her. The tabloids will be worse. And she’s heartbroken. She’s not looking for love with this sweet-seeming stranger. She’s just looking to change the narrative that would write her off as “crazy,” like American society loves to do with one pop icon after another.
Throughout Harper Dill, John Rodgers, and Tami Sagher’s script, there are knowing nods to the many ways the media relishes tearing famous women down, whether it be for an impulsive marriage, a string of divorces, a leaked sex tape, or losing her cool in public. Marry Me trusts you get the context, so they don’t dig into the darkness, nor give these judgments any credence. All the same, Kat comes to a pretty reasonable solution, suggesting she and Charlie fake a romance for a few months until the world moves on — and off her back. This ruse gambit makes Kat a savvy rom-com heroine. Yet, her rationality doesn’t deaden the emotion of her arc.
Surprising, sexy, and smart, “Marry Me” isn’t just a charmer, it’s one of the best romantic comedies of the last decade.
Lopez, who deserved a damn Oscar for Hustlers, grounds Kat’s journey in heartbreak. She’s just learned the “love of her life” is cheating on her, and now she has to face an arena packed with fans. Watching her steel herself for the spotlight, I was reminded of the documentary Katy Perry: Part of Me, which took audiences behind the scenes of a tour during which Perry’s marriage was falling apart. In it, there’s a sequence where she must surrender her wedding band to get into costume, wipe away the tears to put on makeup, then plaster on a smile, because…the show must go on. Faced with a similar moment, Kat doesn’t break down, but neither does she pretend she’s okay. Instead, she displays her vulnerability without apology and makes a bold move. It’s a thrilling, grand romantic gesture. The kiss Lopez and Wilson share is hot. And this is just the first act!
Credit: Universal Studios
From there, Marry Me loops in some very familiar rom-com tropes, like the wisecracking sidekick, the nay-saying cynic, and of course —like in Can’t Buy Me Love, The Proposal, To All The Boys, and Bridgerton — two reluctant lovers who fall despite their ruse. These familiar elements are comforting, but the film is at its best when it plays with expectations. A lot of fun is had with the elementary school setting: Charlie invites Kat to the semi-formal and gives her a corsage, where she meets his students and gives him an apple. There are so many metaphors about how math relates to love, you’d think it’d grow stale. But it all adds up! (I know. I’m sorry.) Their courtship is absolutely adorable, moving from the big showy moment to smaller, more intimate ones. All of them build to a climax that is so exhilarating that I literally screamed with excitement.
Props to the screenwriters and to Coiro, who spun inked pages into a live-action world vivid with color and glitz, down to the racy musical number “Church,” which recalls Madonna or Lil Nas X’s saucy sacrilege. And in a rom-com, no less! Yet Marry Me is not just beautifully constructed but vividly alive, thanks to its sensational leads, who nail the odd couple dynamic.
The bulldog in ‘Marry Me’ is a cuddly scene-stealer and a clever cupid
Sure, she’s a gorgeous goddess and by contrast, he’s a bit of a schlub. But Marry Me smartly shrugs off the Adam Sandler era of rom-coms, where the male lead lumbers along in sweatpants while his female co-star looks cover-girl ready. Charlie is no slob or slouch; he is instead an adorkable Brooklyn Dad, with all the crush-worthiness that implies. His character is established through his devotion to his daughter and their grumpy pet bulldog (with whom I am obsessed). He’s not a manchild; he’s a man, who has loved and lost and so has great empathy for Kat in her moment of loss. He doesn’t understand her world of fame, fortune, and media spin, but he understands her. The incredible chemistry between Lopez and Wilson makes their connection breathlessly enthralling.
Credit: Universal Studios
As for Lopez, who also produces, it feels like she requested certain scenes to showcase her incredible range of skills. She sings. She dances, cracks jokes, does yoga, dazzles with all the power of a multi-decade mega-star, and delivers a portrayal peppered with tender moments. She looks as comfortable in a bodacious gown as she does an afterglow button-down (somehow impeccably ironed). She is not only a pop queen, but also a rom-com maven. She is here to give you love, passion, sex, sentiment, and fantasy, and we — like Charlie — are in awe and grateful for every bit of it.
Look, if Marry Me had been a deeply silly rom-com that was as gleefully absurd as its premise suggested, it probably still would have been great fun. But Coiro and her team have created something more sophisticated, something grander, and something definitively now. Marry Me celebrates our current appreciation for Dads: reliable men who might tell hokey jokes but have a sex appeal inherent in being comfortable in their own skin. It celebrates Lopez, who shares a fair amount in common with Kat, ranging from tabloid targeting, public relationships, and working hard and spectacularly to stay at the top of an industry eager to cast aside women once they age out of playing the ingenue. The script also folds in mindful modern takes on consent and beauty, but without making a show of either. Instead, it lets its lovers live in a world that’s like ours, but a bit softer, a bit sweeter, and a whole lot more romantic.
To put it simply: Surprising, sexy, and smart, Marry Me isn’t just a charmer, it’s one of the best romantic comedies of the last decade.
Marry Me debuts in theaters and on Peacock on Feb 11.