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The Musical Betters the Romance in Marry Me

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Later on in the whirlwind romance that is the new film Marry Me, Jennifer Lopez’s pop icon character answers a suitor’s question about how she can be confident in a relationship’s longevity. The woman says she was “banking a moment on a moment” and that if you “connect enough of those, you have a lifetime.” Maybe that notion is quite fitting in today’s social media-driven pace of manufactured instancy. The very same can be said for movies. Put enough moments together, including spontaneous ones, and you have a little something.

Based on the graphic novel and webcomic of Bob Crosby, Marry Me is a kinetic collection of romantic, comedic, and musical moments that amount to more than enough appeal to create a pleasant journey and viewing experience. Honestly, that’s all it needs to be to succeed. Still, its looseness is bound by its limitations of being mere moments and not something a step or two more lingering.

A man and woman slow dance in a living room.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Lopez’s Kat Valdez is on top of the world as a successful recording artist and massive social media star. Magazine headline romance fuels the buzz around her new smash single (the film’s extremely catchy title song), a collaboration with her international pop star boyfriend Bastien (Latin chart-topper Maluma). The duet are about to make the song’s lyrics come true with a special New York City in-concert wedding when TMZ-level rumors of Bastien’s cheating shatter that event.

Reeling on the verge of a nervous breakdown that’s filling thousands of live feeds, Kat plucks middle school math teacher Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson) from the crowd simply because he’s accidentally holding a “Marry Me” sign that was passed off to him by his daughter Lou (Chloe Coleman of My Spy) and co-worker Parker (comedienne Sarah Silverman). In a matter of seconds, an onstage union is sealed with stunned vows, a “sorry about this” offering, and a kiss to turn what was supposed to be a superstar storybook ending into a tawdry tabloid disaster.

A man and woman raise arms to the crowd after a stage performance.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Full discourse of intellectual thought is not needed to admit that this springboard catalyst of Marry Me is undeniably bonkers. Yet, here we are in a world of The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, 90 Day Fiance, and Married at First Sight that exploits this kind of wacky premise on a rotating seasonal basis. Swallowing this movie’s salt block, one coated in bling and hashtagged to death, will be a tough test to embrace. 99.9% of people wouldn’t marry a stranger they just met and 100% of people shouldn’t do it.

That’s where the marquee couple and former Anaconda co-stars help matters and moments. Charlie Gilbert is a cuddly single dad trying to be fun for his daughter and inspiring to his students. He’s portrayed as a paragon of kindness by Owen Wilson with his amiable smile, soft-spoken compliments, and shaggy handsomeness. Who knew Owen would age into a better Robert Redford clone than Brad Pitt? His ultra-casual nature is conveniently planted as a foil to slow down the lavish fast lane occupied by Lopez’s Kat and her ever-present entourage of handlers and helpers. He’s perfect for her if she progresses further than the PR-schemed front of their union.

A teacher and his wife sit at a desk and smile towards his class.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

In many ways, decelerating Jennifer Lopez is not desirable or necessary. Sure, playing Kat Valdez is not a stretch compared to her real-life persona, but that’s why she’s here. Let her lead this star vehicle (and she does). Lopez’s gorgeous and talented energy, especially as a performer, ignites Marry Me’s megawatt glow. Paired with Maluma’s sexy smolder, she filled a spirited and highly appealing soundtrack that has the power to tap toes and flutter pulses. The title track may get the most buzz, but watch for the orchestra-backed ballad “On My Way” to become the movie’s true showstopper and fan favorite.

Even though Marry Me is a modern rom-com that takes care to include enough female agency along with the usual serendipity of the genre, there’s a streak of slightness when the music is away that holds it back every so gently. Much of that goes back to measuring its moments. One contributing factor is the slack-jawed surroundings of all the gobsmacked crowds documenting the action through their devices at a voyeur’s distance rather than adding a bigger and more plausible frenzy that would match this conundrum. Those are dulled communal moments.

Likewise, for the leads, their characters and performances are missing that next level of swoon. Charismatic as they may be tip-toeing closer to each other with earnest courtship, neither Lopez or Wilson in Marry Me produce a signature moment of attraction that destroys weakened knees or collapses captured hearts. At some point, more and stronger romantic vibes are needed over quick bits of eye contact and cute little waves from him and vivacious dance moves and smokey lyrics presented from afar out of her.

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved and Banana Meter-approved film critic writing here on 25YL Media and his own website Every Movie Has a Lesson. He is also one of the hosts of the 25YL-backed Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast on the Ruminations Radio Network. As a school educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a voting member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association, Hollywood Critics Association, Online Film Critics Society, Internet Film Critics Society, Independent Film Critics of America, and the Celebrity Movie Awards.

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