A romantic comedy should have a few key ingredients: good chemistry between its leads, a meet-cute that sets us up for their journey, a seemingly insurmountable obstacle that threatens their relationship, and an over-the-top declaration of love that wins viewers’ hearts by the end of a tight ninety-minute run time. But one thing that a good rom-com does not have to be is real.
To enjoy the vast majority of rom-coms, you have to suspend your disbelief. If you’ve already seen a version of this story, no, you haven’t. If you’re wondering why ditching a pair of glasses or straightening frizzy hair would make a female lead suddenly desirable, no, you’re not. And so when you’re watching Marry Me, and discover that Kat Valdez (a Jennifer Lopez–esque international pop star played by Jennifer Lopez) has to choose between Bastian (a Maluma-like Latin singer played by Maluma) and “regular guy” Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson), you have to believe that someone would really choose Charlie.
Produced by Lopez, the film follows Kat on the eve of her marriage to Bastian, in which the duo will say “I do” at a livestreamed concert in front of 20 million fans. Of course, it doesn’t go as planned. After Kat pulls off an elaborately choreographed number flanked by a crew of dancing nuns in latex habits (a truly incredible detail), a breaking gossip story reveals to Kat and the audience that Bastian has been cheating on her with her assistant.
Unsure of what to do, she looks out into the crowd and decides she’ll marry Charlie, a man she’s never met and who has no idea who she is, instead.
It’s certainly . . . a choice. One that no human being would make, but that isn’t the point. The point is that, even in the earliest glimpses we get of Kat, we know that she’s tired of being the punch line. The film’s villain, Jimmy Fallon, makes a few appearances on Kat’s TV, where he’s seen taking jabs at her excessive wedding preparations and her decision to marry a complete stranger. When the camera closes in on Kat, we can tell that beneath her perfect hair and her glossy nude lips, she’s devastated.
It doesn’t quite take imagination to believe Lopez as Kat. When we first meet her, we watch an army of employees buzz around her, tending to her every need. She unwinds for a massage under an Hermès blanket, and later she shoves her tumultuous love life to the side to effortlessly deliver a Vitamix promo for her Instagram. (Though it’s not credited on IMDb, the Vitamix makes so many appearances that it feels like a supporting cast member.) If you put your brain in neutral, you might actually think you’ve just been dropped into J.Lo’s actual life in her New York penthouse.
To contrast Kat’s lavish lifestyle, she needs a foil—someone so different that he’ll have to fight to make their relationship work. And what’s the opposite of a famous pop star? A single dad and math teacher who’s preparing his students for a “math-alon”! And while he lives in a way-too-nice apartment, another rom-com staple, we’re constantly reminded of just how “normal” Charlie is (he doesn’t have Instagram, he’s not a fan of vlogging, and, unlike Kat, he even knows how to use a blender without an assistant). As Charlie, Wilson walks the line between hopeless and lovable, spinning the outrageous circumstances of the film’s setup into heartwarming moments of chemistry.
Kat persuades Charlie to try and make the unlikely marriage work, and see if they can turn her impulsive decision into something real. At first, Charlie’s not quite convinced, even questioning how Kat can be so optimistic about marriage when she’s been divorced three times. Still, he decides to give it a shot, challenging Kat to see who she might be without her entourage or constant promotional obligations.
These similarities to J.Lo’s own life feel nakedly intentional. Over the years, Lopez has sometimes been scrutinized for her perfectly manicured public image. Her romantic partners are eyed with suspicion as potential “PR gimmicks,” and later, they’re often incorporated into brand partnerships or business ventures. But even then, incidents like ex-fiancé Alex Rodriguez’s cheating scandal serve as a reminder that even J.Lo can’t control everything. In this way, Marry Me feels like a thought experiment for Lopez—a way for her to safely explore the idea of being more vulnerable.
Despite its number of original songs (“After Love (Part 1)” is a standout), this isn’t a movie that’s going to send Lopez or Wilson on an A Star Is Born–style Oscars campaign, and they knew that going in. Marry Me doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t have to. It’s a rom-com that knows its lane and manages to stay fun and light because of it. And while the central love story might be a little baffling at first, by the end of the film, you’re rooting for Kat and Charlie to get together. I still can’t quite make sense of a world in which anyone would choose a math teacher over Maluma, but Marry Me had enough heart to win mine over.