The meet cute has been a staple of the romantic comedy since at least Clara Bow bumped into Antonio Moreno. After 100 years of cinema, though, enough variations of it have been tried that even the many worlds map of the romcom multiverse has become a flat circle.
The options for most filmmakers now are either to repeat the tried and true setups that have worked since ye olden days, or search for more and more unrealistic conceits to paint some sort of veneer on what must ultimately be the most staid and predictable of genres.
That hasn’t stopped Kat Coiro (the upcoming She-Hulk) from swinging for the fences. Marry Me digs into modern celebrity and its need for 24-hour access, even global recording stars like Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez). Such is the difficulty of maintaining attention in the fractured media landscape, Kat and her beau – fellow pop star Bastian (Maluma) – have come up with the idea of tying the release of their new song “Marry Me” with tying the knot live on stage and on television in front of the whole world.
Instead the realization of Bastian’s infidelity in the middle of her performance blows Kat’s world up… until she happens to see mild-mannered Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson) in the front row with his daughter (Chloe Coleman), holding a sign saying “Marry Me”…
The accidental marriage between stranger’s setup is pretty common (and a little troubling) in the genre, but Coiro and her screenwriters (adapting Bobby Crosby’s graphic novel) have decided to push it as far as it can go and see If it will break. Not since Dan Aykroyd became embroiled with an alien trying to invade the Earth has a romcom more enthusiastically entreated us to ‘just go with it.’
Realizing how much suspension of disbelief is being abused, the conceit is placed front and center to get past it as quickly as possible. Not because no one cares about the setup, but because the real focus is its fallout. Where Marry Me does get interesting is its curiosity about how a pair of human beings would react to these very unique circumstances.
There is a definitely a version of this story that exists entirely as setup for gags. One where Kat is convinced to move in with Charlie and play at being Mrs. Gilbert while reacting with awe and disdain to his ordinary life, or where Charlie’s attempts to fit into superstar life fail in a series of humiliating sight gags.
Marry Me doesn’t bother with any of that, understanding how silly its premise is and letting its leads comment on it as much possible. There is no pretense that the initial relationship is anything more than a PR stunt as they gather for the occasional interview or personal appearance, and then separate again into discrete lives barring the odd phone call.
In theory, it’s a microcosm of the modern disconnected relationship, working professionals always on the move, focusing on simulated connection through devices rather than the people in front. That’s a very narrow view of the modern couple and is less realistic than a pop star marrying a stranger at one her concerts.
Coiro treats it (and most of the film) with a lot of naturalism, evoking understated, mostly non-comical performances from Lopez and Wilson in order to keep it from drowning under the weight of its own conceit.
That does leave it without a lot of what is normally expected from a modern comedy. There are few sight gags and even fewer non-sight gags or extended bits. Wilson gets to be witty (maybe a little too witty) without being annoying and Lopez gets to be distressed without being panicky or shrill Even her instigating flip out is mostly low key.
But that also means Marry Me isn’t particularly funny; most of its comedy is left to Charlie and Kat’s satellite players like Kat’s feisty assistant (Michelle Buteau) or Charlie’s teaching colleague and lifelong pop music fan (Sarah Silverman).
There has been a shift in film philosophy since the rise of Apatow that a film can’t be funny and charming at the same time. Marry Me has made that same calculus and decided to come down on the charming side rather than the funny one.
It’s not a typical decision but it does pay dividends, even if few of them are real laughs. But in a genre where everything has been tried before, going the route less traveled is a victory on its own.
MARRY ME REVIEW SCORE: 6.5 OUT OF 10
Marry Me will open in theaters and be available on the Peacock streaming service on February 11, 2022.
Joshua Starnes has been writing about film and the entertainment industry since 2004 and served as the President of the Houston Film Critics Society from 2012 to 2019. In 2015 he became a co-owner/publisher of Red 5 Comics and in 2018 wrote the series “Kulipari: Dreamwalker” for Netflix. In between he continues his lifelong quest to find THE perfect tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich combination.