No matter how much “Marry Me” seems to be tailor-made for actress, pop star and “unlucky at love” celebrity Jennifer Lopez, it’s no more her story than “Notting Hill” was simply about Julia Roberts.
Both are comic wish fulfillment fantasies in which famous women decide they can only find love with ordinary Joes. So in these cases, the “wish fulfillment” is EveryGuy’s.
And all this stuff about a globally famous “brand” and “influencer” and paparazzi target, famous for being famous and infamous for failed romances (which sometimes end in suggestions of cheating)? That’s got to be from the comic book this is based on and not Lopez’s own punchline-littered love life, right?
Any “Notting Hill: The Musical” comparison here is an easy fit, as both of these films feature superstars playing superstars, only as moon-eyed romantics and with all their sharp edges buffed off. You’ve got to be mercenary, self-absorbed and tough as nails to thrive under the media microscope of such fame, and if there’s a big gripe I’d throw out there about this sweet, generally-charming and family-friendly romance, it’s this idealized and psychologically-uncomplicated portrait of our star.
But Lopez, who sings and dances and social media influences her fanbase as Kat Lopez, hasd never looked more stunning on the screen. And she plays the heck out of Kat’s vulnerability, a star on the backside of 40 dueting with Bastian (Maluma) a song titled “Marry Me” which could be an award winner, with a New York mid-concert wedding to “the love of my life” during her concert stand there.
That blows up, as these things do in the cell-phone stalking era, with video that catches him cheating. Her mid-performance “wedding” is off, her near-tears confessional about her search for love barely hinting at the humiliation she’s just suffered.
But there’s this guy, a math teacher (Owen Wilson) bullied into taking his little fangirl (Chloe Coleman) by gay Kat fangirl Parker (Sarah Silverman), is standing out in the sea of fans, holding a “Marry Me” placard he’s been handed.
Damned if Kat, standing in Liberace’s idea of a wedding dress on stage, doesn’t take this lifeline from that “random albino” and offer a glazed “Yes” to his offer.
Charlie “the guy” is summoned. An officiant asks do you “take this guy to be your lawfully” you-know-what, and Kat says “Yes” again. And this deer-in-headlights single dad takes in the hurt in her as-vulnerable-as-she-gets superstar’s eyes, and replies “Sure.”
This is the viewer’s check in or check out point in “Marry Me.” Maybe ten, twenty years ago, we’d have all thought “Oh come on.” Then we catch the gossip on who Pete Davidson’s dating, who Colin Jost married and whoever Julia Roberts ended up with, and we think, “Oh this could totally happen.”
In our image-obsessed, social-media massaging era, it might go down just like this, with NDAs and quid pro quo and an omnipresent cameraman as they marry, and then sort of get to know one another during press conferences, “Today Show” appearances, or as they get into makeup backstage.
Kat can show her cunning when she frets over how “I’ll look crazy” for going through with this. Her manager (John Bradley of “Game of Thrones” and “Moonfall”) is there to correct her.
“ER. You’ll look ‘crazy-ER.'”
Like any social media animal, she knows the idea is to change the subject, from “punch line” to “impulsive, without a plan,” at her first joint press appearance with her new “husband.” “But look where my plans have got me.”
Charlie seems to get that like much of what’s on social media, “It’s not real. It’s all a facade.” But damned if he doesn’t charm the press, as well as this rich, famous stranger in distress sitting to his right.
Here’s why this works. Wilson’s disarming, querulous sincerity and sweetness just washes over the movie, the viewing audience and ever-glamorous Ms. Jennifer Lopez. If one thinks “She cast him for some of the same reasons Kat takes on Charlie,” one won’t be alone. He makes her vulnerability believable and softens her appeal, from dancer/bombshell/sex object to that famous phrase from “Notting Hill” — “Just a girl.”
Sure, it’s all so sugary it can make your teeth ache. But listen to the math teacher’s advice to his math-whiz daughter, “If you sit in the question, the answer will find you.” It may not be profound, but it’s adorable.
Director Kato Coiro of Peacock/Hulu’s “Girls5Eva” and Neflix’s “Dead to Me,” has this story proceed at a screen romance pace, because it’s not a punchy and punchline-heavy rom-com.
Silverman is here to give the movie the little edge it manages, taking over Charlie’s post-nup “negotiation” with Kat’s manager. As in “Moonfall,” Bradley seems cast because he looks enough like Ricky Gervais that one expects him to be funny. He tries his best.
Stephen Wallum from “Nurse Jackie” plays the Kat-fan school choir director, because you know there are going to be school visits, choral serenades to Kat, dance lessons for the Pi-Thons, the math team Charlie coaches, and a real date.
“Are you inviting me to the school dance?”
Lopez has had plenty of ups and downs in her film and public career, and this catches her in a post-“Hustlers” high. Wilson’s been reduced to mostly just the films made by his earliest champion, Wes Anderson’s.
But “Marry Me” gives them both an engaging if undemanding romantic outing, newfangled enough to be social media-current, old fashioned enough to warrant bringing the whole family. Just remember to brush your teeth afterwards.
Rating: PG-13 for some language and suggestive material
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, Maluma, Sarah Silverman, John Bradley, Stephen Wallum and Chloe Coleman.
Credits: Directed by Kat Coiro, scripted by Harper Dill and John Rogers, based on the graphic novel by Bobby Crosby. A Universal release.
Running time: 1:52