J.Lo’s “Marry Me” Is A Bust

Marry Me doesn’t deliver on Jennifer Lopez’s rom-com queen tradition. (Potential spoilers.)

The devil works hard, but Jennifer Lopez works harder. It feels like just a minute ago she was in the midst of a renaissance as a critical darling, with her Golden Globe–nominated performance in 2019’s Hustlers.

Since then, she’s wrapped up her reality TV show, World of Dance, performed at the Super Bowl, released new music with reggaeton thirst trap king Maluma, celebrated her legacy in a Behind the Music documentary, and revived aughts nostalgia with Bennifer 2.0.

In line with the nostalgic mood, she’s back on our screens with Marry Me, her first rom-com since 2010’s The Back-up Plan. Produced by Lopez (alongside customary partners Benny Medina and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas), Marry Me is, per usual, not just a film but content strategy for the entire Lopez machinery.

She’s been promoting the movie with Maluma all over TikTok and late night TV (Jimmy Fallon has a cameo), and it’s clearly meant as an injection of new energy into her music career. The movie, which premieres on Peacock and in theaters Friday, sounds like a fun meta fairytale of the kind Lopez excels in, about a world famous pop star, Kat Valdez, whose fiancé publicly cheats on her right before their celebrity nuptials.

I’m a fan of Lopez, of pop star movies, and even of the subgenre of a celebrity-dates-a-normie rom-coms (à la Notting Hill). But Marry Me doesn’t really deliver on any of those counts. The movie’s writing is so insistently bland that it makes the recent Addison Rae vehicle, He’s All That, with its gender-swapped, next-gen gloss on social media-era dating, look like an avant-garde masterpiece.

Marry Me’s script is based on a graphic novel about a pop star who picks a fan to marry at a concert. It was clearly reworked to fit Lopez, and there’s some camp appeal to the conceit.

In the grand tradition of pop stars playing pop stars, Valdez is a different artist than Lopez, as we learn when she performs the absurd bop “Church” while dancing with backup artists in nun outfits as she sings about “faith” and being “baptized in you” in a see-through leotard.

Kat is in a very public relationship with fellow Latinx star Bastian, played by Maluma, whose rico suave appeal and “mi amor” Romeo act will be familiar to anyone who watches the singer’s music videos or frequents his Instagram. We’re supposed to care that they’ve decided to get married at one of their concerts in front of 20 million people, but it feels like we get more background footage of news reports about the upcoming nuptials than any palpable sense of Kat and Bastian’s connection. (Or any fun send-up of his image.) That omission might be making a point about the superficiality of the relationship, but it makes it hard to invest in the characters.

At their wedding, gossip spreads through the crowd that footage of Bastian cheating has leaked. Heartbroken, Valdez makes an impromptu decision to marry a random person from the audience and plucks Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson), a single dad, from the crowd.

Sometimes, the film itself comes off like product placement for Lopez and Maluma. 

The aftermath of that moment features a potentially funny setup as deflated loverboy Bastian is jealous of Gilbert and tries to joke about the gringo nobody, but he cringingly calls him “albino.” And whether because of the performances or the writing, the moment just comes off banally melodramatic.

Kat’s manager raises an interesting point, saying she can’t lose control of her narrative because she’s “a woman north of 35 in an ageist industry.” It’s an ingenious euphemism for being fiftysomething, but the movie never really explores that potential theme at all. It feels less like a celebration or acknowledgment of age than an attempt to manage it. (Then again, transcending age is a big part of Lopez’s appeal.)

Instead, Kat spins the impromptu wedding by telling journalists that she’s flipping the script on heterosexual marriage in a supposed you-go-girl moment. “We pick the guy, we keep our name, and let them earn the right to stay,” she practically cheers.

But the story lacks the confidence to disrupt early aughts rom-com conventions even as it talks about breaking them. The Kat and Charlie courtship is a typical opposites-attract romance, with tropes about authenticity — he’s not into social media, she is — and he’s something of an unromantic schlub who tells her she’s “good to go” even without hair extensions while she believes in love even after three marriages.

There’s a moment between them that feels genuine when she explains that Bastian believed in her talent even as the industry often failed to give her credit despite her fame and success. It resonates with Lopez’s feelings of not being part of the Hollywood white girls club. But as a root- for-the-underdog moment, it’s no Maid in Manhattan.

It’s telling that the lines come as she’s defending Bastian, rather than connecting with Gilbert, who is actually the film’s underdog, a humble teacher whose wife dumped him. There is more sparkle in Wilson’s scenes of eye-rolling at his lesbian best friend (played by Sarah Silverman in one of the only funny roles) than with Kat. And the script seems less interested in their relationship than keeping the will-she-or-won’t-she with Bastian alive.

The big anticlimactic denouement happens on a Jimmy Fallon set. The talk show epiphany comes off less as a fun commentary about or use of celebrity than as part of the movie’s rather artless product placements for Vitamix, Guess, Coach, and, randomly, wix.com. Director Kat Coiro worked on TV shows, including Girls5Eva before, but this is her first film, and those kinds of missed opportunities feel like a lack of instinct for storytelling or drama.

Sometimes, the film itself comes off like product placement for Lopez and Maluma themselves, and I wish it had leaned into that more overtly. Turning to her usual production bubble didn’t help Lopez stick to her usual instincts about what makes her celebrity interesting or help her play against type like she did in Hustlers.

In a recent Rolling Stone profile, Lopez admitted she sometimes doesn’t know when to stop working. ”‘Oh, maybe I should do this because if I don’t, people won’t see me for a while,’” she explained of her thought process. “Then you’re just, ‘I shouldn’t have done that. That was a stupid move. That didn’t turn out well.’” Marry Me isn’t quite a mess to regret. But to quote “Church,” it might be a sign to have more faith in waiting for inspiration. ●

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