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Owen Wilson

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Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson in a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Romantic comedies cover a broad spectrum. Whether classics, such as It Happened One Night, The Philadelphia Story, or The Shop Around the Corner or contemporary favorites, like When Harry Met Sally, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Love Actually, most viewers have their personal favorites. 

On the low end are unwatchable travesties, usually humorless and coarse (thank you, Holidates, for ruining an entire year’s worth of celebrations). The majority play somewhere between, floating in that B-/C+ range on the bell curve. They are watchable but by-the-numbers predictable or just fail to reach their potential. Marry Me, now playing in theatres and streaming on Peacock, is guilty of both. 

Singing superstar Katalina “Kat” Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) is poised to marry the younger Bastian (Maluma) in a spectacular event. The combination concert and ceremony will play to five thousand “guests” and twenty million watching from around the world. It will also unveil the titular duet. Just before she is about to enter and take her vows, an online news source posts video of Bastian carrying on with Kat’s assistant. After a speech about “love is a lie,” Kat selects an unwitting audience member to be her husband. He is math teacher Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson), who happens to be holding his daughter Lou’s (Chloe Coleman) “Marry Me” sign. He comes onstage, marries her, and the story begins. 

The premise is ridiculous, but there is an opportunity for both humor and insight if one embraces the idea. The opening shows preparations for a celebrity wedding in all its excess, both the over-the-top production and the media coverage. How much more interesting would the film have been to continue this path, emphasizing the misplaced values and the constant internet hype? Instead, the story becomes painfully predictable. 

Kat’s people convince Gilbert to continue in the faux marriage so she can “change the narrative.” Because he is such a good guy—the windbreaker is a dead giveaway—he agrees. But, of course, they fall in love. She takes him to openings; she teaches his mathalon students to dance. It is all precious and precocious. 

The supporting cast is reduced to ciphers, with Sarah Silverman playing Gilbert’s best friend, a school guidance counselor, who is the “kooky sidekick.” John Bradley (interesting in the execrable Moonfall) and Michelle Buteau play Kat’s considerate handlers. But they are given so little character, they function more to move things along, reminding Kat that she has a photoshoot or a plane to catch. The banality of their performances is no fault of theirs. Maluma, a gifted singer, is given the caricature Latin lothario. Coleman does well enough as Gilbert’s daughter, caught between divorced parents and trying to fit in her new school.

But the film’s sole reason is Lopez and Wilson, and, unfortunately, they seem uncomfortable much of the time. Lopez is saddled with the worst of it; she is the star who is lonely in the crowd. Lopez is a charismatic performer, which shines through when she is allowed to sing. Here, she engages fully, and these are the brighter spots. Wilson is trying to channel an everyman but just comes across as clueless (projected through his use of a flip phone). 

There is not so much a lack of chemistry as no fusion. Kat and Gilbert are quickly too comfortable yet remain distant, mouthing speeches that are a patchwork of cliches. It is as if someone has cut up Hallmark cards and pasted them together as a script. In this case, the someones are John Rogers, Tami Sagher, and Harper Dill, who penned the pedestrian screenplay (based on a graphic novel by Bobby Crosby). Director Kat Coiro fails to bring any originality or point of view.

Many obvious moments will either satisfy expectations or just annoy. The whimsical challenge: Kat will attempt to function without assistants; Gilbert will go on social media. (The arc lasts all of three minutes and then is forgotten.) The requisite surprise birthday gift:  A visit to a childhood amusement park. The romantic date:  They chaperone the school dance. The build-up to consummation: It might be the first time in fifty years that anyone has been inspired by Robert Goulet’s “If Ever I Would Leave You.” The final obstacles involve the Grammy Awards and the big math event, lacking stakes and tension. So much for conflict, contrast, and texture.

One of the major missed opportunities is mentioned in passing. Kat is “north of thirty-five.” Far more interesting would have been incorporating the fears of a not-young-star in a youth-centric culture. Lopez would have brought both depth and dimension to this element.

Ultimately, it comes down to what you want. If you hope for wit and originality, Marry Me does not deliver. But, if you can accept a bland if not unpleasant movie, there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours.

Rated PG-13, Marry Me is playing in local theaters and streaming on Peacock.